It’s hard to believe, but this is the fifth entry in the Harry Potter franchise, a series that kicked off in 2001. This is also the third Harry Potter movie I’ve reviewed the campaign for. MMM: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was the third column I wrote for FilmThreat in the early summer of 2004. In the winter of 2005 I then wrote up a review of the campaign for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. So it’s been year and a half since the last entry in a series that has met with mixed critical reaction, even as it racks up generally good box-office tallies.
It’s almost impossible to write a synopsis for this movie that doesn’t just begin and end with “The continuing adventures of Harry Potter and his friends at Hogwarts” but I’ll try. This fifth year at Hogwarts has Harry and his friends growing up and growing older as the boy wizard moves ever closer to his destiny and a showdown with the evil character of Voldemort. There’s something about a revolution and the students taking matters into their own hands as they prepare for a final showdown of some sort but, having not read any of the books and only having seen one of the movies I have absolutely no idea what that might entail. But the movie is, by most accounts, darker than previous entries, a trend that’s not gone unnoticed by critics and fans.
A while ago there were a handful of character posters created, including one for the now-fully-revealed Voldmort. As with all such long-running and cross-media franchises it’s kind of hard to see how this is a promotion for the movie specifically when it really serves as a promotion for the franchise as a whole.
The first of these teasers simply showed a heavily made-up Ralph Fiennes as the evil Voldemort. This is probably my favorite of the one-sheets, especially with the tagline “You Will Lose Everything.” The inclusion of a tagline like that is a common tactic on the Harry Potter posters, something that’s been done on at least the last two films and I think the one before that as well.
There were then a whole series of dual character posters, six in total, that served as teasers internationally. Each one took the basic concept of the character-centric poster – one person on each one-sheet – and added something to it. In a small crystal ball in the bottom corner there was someone who, it’s visually implied, the main character in the poster is going to be squaring off against. So, for instance, Harry is the focus of his poster while Voldemort is in the crystal ball. So and so forth. It’s actually quite a nice effect that sets up the idea that this film will be conflict-driven and not just about discovering powers – in this installment they actually have to fight.
The theatrical poster took the obvious tactic of presenting the ever-expanding cast lined up against whatever it is they’re facing down. Harry, of course, is right in the middle of the action with the rest of the cast flanked around him. Herimone and Ron are right at the edge. The placement of Watson up at the front is a pretty obvious move to get the boys who have grown up with the series and who might just now be discovering girls to go “wowzah” since Watson has matured a bit in the six years since the first movie. Yeah, I know she’s a main character and all but I don’t think we should play down the role hormones play in a movie marketing campaign.
In fact Watson’s breast’s (yes, I know she’s underage and I do feel appropriately dirty – let’s just move one) were the subject of some debate a while ago. After the key art was revealed there was another version released specifically for the IMAX release of the movie. On that version Watson’s breasts appeared to be…ummm…augmented a bit through the use of photo manipulation. This has all sorts of fun visuals of graphic designers dragging and dropping associated with it, but Warner Bros. denied they had performed any unauthorized Photoshop surgery on the young star.
The two theatrical posters released internationally are actually much darker and much more action-oriented, showing Harry and the gang in the thick of things. I think these posters would have worked just as well domestically but perhaps they were a too much on the action side for the studio to handle. The darker tone might have been too violet, but that doesn’t really make sense based on the trailers that were released and the amount of action they showed.
As an aside, MoviePosterAddict has a nice post up on the progression of the posters as the series has continued. Very cool stuff.
And speaking of those trailers…
As with the rest of the movies in the Potter series the trailers for Order of the Phoenix are a mixed bag. On the one hand the sell the movie pretty well to the core constituency, but on the other they’re largely inaccessible to anyone who’s not already a fan.
The teaser trailer is largely based around the idea of this being Harry’s opportunity to prove his courage in the face of the Dark Lord’s return. It’s a pretty quick trailer, over almost before you have a chance to get your bearings. There are quick shots of Voldemort, some brief exposition elements explaining the straits our heroes find themselves in and a quick shot of Harry actually getting to first base with a girl. And that’s about it. Like I said – very short teaser trailer. What was interesting about its debut is that it was hosted on the official website for Happy Feet, another Warner Bros. production aimed a similarly aged audience. The theatrical release of Happy Feet also was where the teaser made its big-screen debut.
The theatrical trailer goes quite a bit further into the movie’s plot and action set pieces. It’s through this that we’re shown the ignorance – willful or otherwise – that most of the wizards at Hogwarts are operating under and how that’s led to Voldemort’s return. This is also where we see Harry and his band of friends and other young wizards deciding to form their own army to fight this resurrected evil since no one else is willing to. It’s actually quite good but again, the sheer weight of the backstory and mythology, even the little bits that are shown in the 2:13 trailer, make it just too darn intimidating for the uninitiated viewer.
The online executions for the Harry Potter franchise have always left me with a bad taste in my mouth. Odysseus couldn’t have found his way out of the site for Prisoner of Azkaban and the one for Goblet of Fire wasn’t a whole lot better. But let’s not focus on the past but instead turn our attention on the present.
The movie’s official website opens without the initial landing page that so many movie Web sites utilize nowadays, so you’re immediately in the site and have the full contents at your fingertips. That’s quite a change and I’d be interested to know what prompted Warner Bros. to make that call. Just worth noting that it bucks that particular trend.
Let’s look at what’s under the Menu on the left hand side of the page first.
“About the Film” contains a very nice Story synopsis that fills in the basics of the plot quite nicely and sets the stage for the conflicts without spoilers of a drastic nature. Cast and Filmmakers are just what they sound like brief background pieces on those in front of and behind the camera. About the Production is split up into seven sections and tells not only about the production but also adds a needed bit of character detail that helps educate people not familiar with this universe. This kind of thing would be great to open up and let people add to or at least make linkable so people could share it.
“Video” contains the teaser trailer, theatrical trailer, six TV Spots a Wizarding World Webcast and a QTVR environment. That Webcast is just an announcement of the Harry Potter theme park that’s going to be built within the Universal Studios theme park at some point in the next few years.
There are about 18 or 20 stills in the “Gallery,” many of them drawn directly from the trailers. “Downloads” contains Wallpapers, ten domestic and international posters to download, 11 Buddy Icons to use and two screensavers. There’s also an option to grab a bit of code and add a widget to your MySpace page or blog that points to both the official movie site and the official soundtrack site. This is a great tool to offer people and, considering the growing popularity of widgets as marketing tools, a smart move to make to enable fans to spread the word themselves.
“Who’s Who” lets you download biographies of any of the main characters from the film to your hard drive, something that’s kind of cool. “Games” has three simple online games for you to play if you have some time to spend.
Moving to the top list of menu options, the first thing that’s available is “Death Eater Art.” Death Eaters, to my understanding, serve sort of as Stormtroopers to Voldemort’s Vader and this lets you create your own Death Eater mask. Some questioned the wisdom of using something with the name “Death” and with obvious Third Reich overtones in the promotional push for what is still ostensibly a kid’s movie but I don’t think it’s that big a deal. The movie’s are geared toward the age the kids are now who began watching the series six years ago so I think it’s fine.
Next to that is “The Daily Prophet.” This is a constant feature of the Potter sites and serves as a newsletter type feature for news updates. An RSS feed would have been nice so that those of us following the movie’s campaign could have subscribed but oh well. “Community” is the last button on the top, with links to the Webmaster’s section, a newsletter sign-up, message boards and another place to find the Widget code for your blog.
Moving to the bottom menu we first see a link to the Order of the Phoenix’s MySpace page. The next link, “More Harry Potter,” takes you to the main Harry Potter website where you can find all sorts of information about the boy wizard’s world.
“JoinDumbleDoresArmy” is kind of interesting. Named after the rebel group the students form in the story this lets you scrawl a quick 50-word message that will then get shared with others that sign up. Think of it as micro-blogging with a specific purpose. There are also links to some of the games and features that are replicated here from the main site.
The rest are easy to dispense with, since they’re just “Tickets,” “IMAX,” “Videogame,” Soundtrack,” “Wish List” and “WB Shop,” all of which are exactly what you probably think they are.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
The seventh – and final – book in the Potter series is being released within a couple weeks of the movie’s debut.
Let me say that again: The seventh book is coming out at roughly the same time as the movie.
What better ancillary advertising or promotion do you need? What percentage of the enormous amount of media stories about the book do you think have also mentioned the movie? I’d be willing to bet it’s upwards of 75 percent. That’s tremendous hype that is, for the most part, unearned but still earned and not paid for.
Of course the movie has had a sizable ad budget as well. In Chicago I’ve seen plenty of outdoor ads, including billboards, bus-side boards and more so I assume other cities are being similarly blanketed. Warner’s has also been running TV spots with a good amount of regularity. Maybe it’s just me visiting the wrong sites, though, because I haven’t seen a lot of online ads for the movie. But again, it’s dangerous to draw assumptions based solely on your own media consumption habits.
Of course the movie – the new book – have gotten promotional help from bookstores, which have built out their Harry Potter sections and displays to take advantage of Potter-mania. Those displays include not only books but associated products such as stickers, jelly beans and a host of other such items.
I think this campaign is a good one but unfortunately it gets weighed down under the burden it’s forced to bear. The posters are all good enough, the trailers sufficiently exciting and the Web site nicely laid out and full of decent content. Plus, it didn’t make me want to hack off my arm just to stop the hurting.
I wonder, though, if the inability (at least from my point of view) to cross over into non Potter-ites is hurting this franchise. This isn’t something like James Bond where each movie is able to stand on its own because there’s no overarching story progression. This is one big story that Rowling and Warner Bros. are telling. That means you need to come into each installment with the baggage from the previous ones in order to really get what’s going on. It also makes each successive movie more difficult to market since recaps need to be given to the uninitiated. But doing so could turn off loyal fans.
This push, I think, does the best with the barriers it has in front of it and sells the movie well as the next, darker adventure in the Harry Potter series.