Movie Marketing Madness: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1

Earlier this year I covered the campaign for Shrek Goes Fourth, the fourth and reportedly final chapter in that saga. The extent to which you may have bought that story depended on a number of things, I would suppose, including the extent to which you’ve felt the recent resurgence in “reboots” of classic franchises were more about artistic expression and not just shameless money grabs. The original Shrek was based (loosely from what I understand) on a children’s book but the movie franchise extended from there since everyone was making money and there weren’t really an limitations on the stories that could be told.

See the number of stories that can be told when we’re talking about adaptations is, in many cases, directly limited by the amount source material that’s available. In the case of something like Shrek it was possible to transcend and escape those limitations because the original source book wasn’t something that was generally considered to be hallowed or untouchable so the filmmakers could go off in a number of different directions.

Try to do that with a beloved – and current – series of books and you’ll find yourself facing a world of backlash you wouldn’t believe. That’s why those behind The Lord of the Rings movies are so eager to make The Hobbit, because it’s the one thing they can still do. They can’t very well continue the saga into realms Tolkien didn’t explore or they run the very real risk of being slain by people who take the whole “dressing up as an orc” think a bit to seriously.

Which brings us to the latest entry in another wildly successful science fiction series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The last book in the series by author and creator J.K. Rowling, the story is actually being split into two parts for its theatrical release because of the scope of the story being told, with Part 1 being released now and Part 2 early next year. And while I’m sure there are legitimate artistic reasons for the split – it is a big book – it’s also an opportunity for Warner Bros. to delay the inevitable a short while and get two event releases out of its last grasp at the franchise since any extension that doesn’t begin with a Rowling book is almost entirely out of the question.

The movies have gotten progressively darker with each installment just as the books did and that’s coming to its culmination in this movie as everyone realizes the ultimate stakes are on the line. Being the (pen)ultimate book in the series the story also features the coming together of the plots, both laid out and hinted at, advanced in the previous six books/movies. Without going into too much detail, the characters Harry, Ron, Hermoine and all their family and friends all now realize they are engaged in a full scale war.

So the time for learning at Hogwarts is done and it’s time to confront Voldemort’s forces of evil for once and for all and for Harry in particular to accept his destiny, even if he’s not sure what that destiny is. Add on top of the very real physical danger that is in front of them the fact that they’re all getting older and are more…romantically inclined and the story is veritably boiling over with everyone’s emotions, which makes for high drama combined with lots of action.

The Posters

The first teaser poster features a most disturbing site – the dual release dates for the two parts of the movie.

No, I kid. The main feature here aside from the note that Part 1 is coming this year and Part 2 in 2011 is the site of Hogwarts in flames against a dusk sky. That, accompanied by the “It all ends here” copy at the top makes it clear there are bad times afoot for Harry and the gang.

I like the fact that the campaign starts off with a clear intonation of the stakes that are on the table here and that Hogwarts, which has been the one symbol of stability in Harry’s – and therefore the audience’s – life in these stories is seen suffering a massive violation at the hands of his enemies.

After that a series of three posters, one each with Harry, Hermoine and Ron, were released that put each character in a different setting and showed them looking very much on-alert and on the ready for whatever dangers they were about to face. Each one featured the copy “Nowhere is safe,” making it clear these characters are on the run, with enemies all around them. A companion series featuring three of the villains also came out at this time but on their images the copy intones that “The hunt begins.”

Right after that another one-sheet was released that had all three of the main characters on it. This one featured the three of them running through the woods, either from or to the danger, with embers or some sort of magical sparks falling down around them. This one has the same dark and dreary look as those three character-specific ones and so continues that branding feel nicely.

In short order after that eight more character-centric posters were released featuring not only the standard trio of heroes but also some of the movie’s villains, including Snape, Voldemort, Bellatrix and Greyback. These were extreme close-up shots and designed, apparently, to make the viewer vaguely uncomfortable, especially if you suddenly find yourself counting the pores on Emma Watson’s face.

Even more shortly after that four more arrived, this time pairing the characters up in a series of four one-sheets, two for the heroes (though Hermoine gets put with both Harry and Ron) and two for the villains. All four in this set feature “The hunt begins” copy, again making it clear this is just the opening chapter of a larger story.

The Trailers

The first teaser trailer aired during the 2010 MTV Movie Awards and certainly laid out the setup of the (almost) final chapter. While there’s little in the way of direct plot given, we do see bad guys lurking around in spooky forests, friends standing against unseen dangers, nerves being rattled that some friends are fighting with each other, a dragon chasing someone and even a brief kiss between Ginny Weasely and Harry. So the movie promises, based on this, the same thing the source book did, which is lots of culminations and passion.

The first full trailer, released shortly after that, certainly presents dark tidings for our hero and his friends. Starting off with a showdown between Potter and Voldemort we then get a series of scenes from the movie, some of which show the power of the dark forces massing or attacking and some of which show the good guys defending what they can. There’s lots of running around, lots of standing awe-struck by something fantastical happening around them and so on. We see many of the characters from the franchise, if only briefly.

But what the trailer shows isn’t half as important as the event atmosphere that’s being created in between the scenes. “The finale of the worldwide phenomenon,” “The motion picture event of a generation” and more are thrown on screen to make sure everyone knows just what a big deal these movies are. This trailer does act as a promotion for both parts and shows the release date of both Parts I and II as well as the obligatory notice that this will be in IMAX.

The second trailer continued the themes of darkness and despair that have already been communicated.

We start out with Bill Nighy intoning that dark times are here and then are shown a ton of scenes of battle commencing between the forces of light and those of darkness. There are a few shots of the efforts Harry’s friends and protectors are taking to keep him safe – including casting a spell to make a bunch of his friends look like him – but mostly it’s various people flying around in combat or otherwise chasing each other around.

There’s a ton of new footage here but very little in the way of story aside from the broad point of “Keep Harry safe while Voldemort tries to kill him.” It’s effective in that it sells the massive scope that this movie takes place on but in terms of details all that’s really added is Snipe’s comments about infiltrating the Ministry of Magic.

Online

The official website opens by playing the most recent and final trailer.

Once you get past that and into the site itself the first section under the Menu that’s at the top is “About the Movie. There you’ll see a Story synopsis that covers what parts of the plot are going to be included in this installment as well as Cast and Filmmakers sections with backgrounds and information on those folks and Production Notes you can download if you choose to do so.

THere are about 20 stills you can view in the “Gallery” and expand as you see fit. “Videos” just has the two trailers but not any of the TV spots or anything else that’s been produced, which is unfortunate.

“Downloads” has 19 Posters (which I think is most all of them), seven Wallpapers and some Buddy Icons and a Screensaver you can use to display your fandom to your friends and co-workers.

The “Soundtrack” section opens up a new site’s that’s devoted to the album of the movie’s music and showcases the different formats you can buy it in if you want to. “Promotions” has links to some of the sites that have run promotions around the movie.

A bit of commerce is up next as “Previous Years” shows you the DVDs for the previous movies with links to buy and “Shop” takes you to the WBShop.com site with a ton of Harry Potter items to purchase. “Videogame” is dedicated, obviously, to the tie-in game for this movie.

A couple of social sections are found in “Join the Final Battle,” which is a Facebook App that pits you against your friends and “iPhone App,” which takes you to iTunes where you can buy the app, which has all sorts of spells and such, including the ability to duel with your fellow iPhone users.

Also online was the latest variation on the “upload your photo” concept in the form of Undesirable No. 1, where you can put yourself or your friend into one of the movie’s Wanted posters.

Muggle Hub” is kind of a stand-alone multimedia site for the movie, with all the same downloads, photos and more that are on the main site as well as a countdown clock, Firefox of Google themes, Twitter Skins and a couple other additional goodies.

Finally there are links to both the “Mobile Game” and the online “Motorbike Escape” game you can play during your free time.

The movie’s Facebook page imports much of the official website’s content – or at least links to it – but adds more video (which I’ll never really get) and of course the updates on what’s going on with the film’s publicity and marketing, many of which can be found on the Twitter profile as well.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

The TV spots for the movie certainly ramped up the sense of danger that the movie is meant to convey, with virtually every scene of the first commercial released being devoted to how much imminent peril Harry in particular is in. Voldemort almost gets more screen time in that spot than Harry and most of Harry’s seem to have him lying down in agony.

There were a ton more TV spots that all played up the danger and the high, high stakes that all the character were put up against.

Plenty of online and other advertising was done as well, of course, most using the imagery of the three main characters running through the forest.

Media and Publicity

Much of the initial publicity and buzz was centered around where, exactly the book would be split. This followed, of course, the announcement that the planned adaptation would be too long for just one reasonably-lengthed film and instead would be two. There was all sorts of speculation and rumors and reports but not much in the way of official announcements.

There was also movement on a front that began in advance of the previous film, Half-Blood Prince. Around September of 2009 more details were released about The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, a new attraction at Universal Studios that would recreate Hogsmeade and other locations from the books and movies and, of course, sell lots of related items (Time, 9/15/09) to the flocking faithful. More press, of course, appeared (New York Times, 6/7/10) just as the attraction was opening.

To help win the hearts and minds of geek webmasters and fans the movie made a brief appearance at Comic-Con 2010 where there was a bit of new footage shown off but not much else. This seems to have been a box to check off the list but with the knowledge by the studio that the crowd at Comic-Con wasn’t going to make or break the movie.

Some surprising news came with Warner Bros. announced (New York Times, 10/8/10) that Part 1 would not be distributed in 3D. The studio gave a pretty sound and laudable explanation for that decision, that the timeline just wasn’t working out and it would not be ready and at the level of quality they wanted it in time for release. The news was just about universally praised since it showed them standing up to do something right instead of just making a cheap move to make extra dollars.

The fact that this was the (next to) last installment in the franchise also prompted some looking back at that franchise (Los Angeles Times, 11/5/10) and how it’s been managed both as a series of films and as part of a larger brand that, not taking the books into account, includes just a ton of tie-in products, all of which have depended on the success of those movies.

Overall

There’s a good campaign here, but I’m left with kind of a mixed feeling overall. On the one hand, it feels too big, especially when it comes to how many posters were thrown out there and the regularity of the TV spots, if not their volume. On the other it feels like it’s all build up with no release, largely the result of the fact that the campaign is advertising Part One of a story we all know is being told in two parts. So it’s being sold as an epic, but much of the epic-scale marketing is being held back as the studio keeps its powder dry for the second film in a few months.

Trying as much as I can to judge the campaign on its own merits, though, it’s not bad. Again, there’s plenty of material to work with here and most all of it strikes the same tone of danger lurking around every plot turn. All the posters and both the trailers work to bring this message home, which completes the pattern of all the movie’s campaigns that have progressively sold darker and more dangerous movies.

A full recap isn’t really possible until the second part comes out. But the studio has done a good job, to the extent it even needed to, to build up the audience’s expectations for this next-to-last movie in the wildly popular series.

PICKING UP THE SPARE

  • 11/16/10 – Andrew Wallenstein at PaidContent wonders aloud whether the leak of the movie’s first 36 minutes to Torrent sites was actually accidental or in fact part of a plan (though one the studio is denying) by WB to see if giving people an extended taste translates to even bigger box office numbers. The same thought had fleetingly occurred to me so it’s hard for me to argue with his thinking.
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