No Introductions Necessary?

It seems like the Harry Potter brand needs no introduction, however for those who have somehow missed the phenomenon of the boy wizard, that is where I shall start. Harry Potter did not start out as a brand, but as the eponymous lead character in the first of J.K Rowling’s successful book series; Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone. The story follows Harry, who one day discovers he is a wizard and is whisked off into a world of magic and adventure at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The book initiated a series of seven books, which captured the imagination of adults and children alike, winning numerous awards (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2014) and making JK Rowling the first ever billionaire author (Watson & Kellner, 2004).

Following the success of the first book, film studios approached Rowling to buy rights to the film. Due to Rowling’s protectiveness over the brand and her intellectual property, it was 1999 before Warner Brothers agreed the rights to the film of Stone[1] (Gunelius, 2008). Warner Brothers started a regular filming and release schedule of the films as the book series progressed (Appendix 2). This gave rise to widespread merchandising and over 400 associated licensed products (Brown, 2014). Online, literary and film fans alike developed engaged communities, creating fan fiction and art, discussing nuances of the stories and characters and speculating about future plot devices.

In 2011 the Harry Potter global brand was valued in excess of $15bn dollars. Due to frequent product launches and almost continuous promotional activity since the first book release, the brand has experienced what Gunelius (2008) describes as a “unique product lifecycle”.

The Product Lifecycle

Kotler et al. (2008, p.571) define the Product Lifecycle (PLC) as “the course of a product’s sales and profits over its lifetime”, although the PLC model applies to both brands and products. The PLC model comprises four phases; introduction, growth, maturity and decline, as seen in Fig1 which illustrates a ‘typical’ PLC model (Jobber, 2001) (Kotler, et al., 2008). In reality, the time in each phase differs between different products and brands and both Jobber (2001) and Doyle (2006) argue that many brands/products will not adhere to the PLC model at all, due to the nature of the product or its market environment.

The PLC is primarily used to forecast the brand/product’s performance over time, allowing strategic decisions to be made such as when to invest in a product, employ different marketing strategies, target particular audiences and retire the product.

Product Lifecycle Diagram
Fig 1: Traditional Product Lifecycle Diagram – Extract from Doyle & Stern (2006, p.132)

 

Marketing theorists recommend strategic activities and rules for decision-making at each stage (Jobber, 2001, p.249). However Doyle & Stern (2006) and Dhalla & Yuspeh (1976) warn that attempting to adhere to the PLC ‘rules’ could lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy; if the product is milked for cash and marketing spend is withdrawn at the expected end of the maturity phase, the subsequent product decline is arguably inevitable. Opposing the traditional approach, some organisations choose to take action to extend the PLC and time spent in the profitable maturity stage, as can be seen with the Harry Potter brand.

The Brand That Lived

Due to “perpetual and tease marketing”, regular product releases and an active and engaged online fan community maintaining hype and actively promoting the brand, Harry Potter has enjoyed multiple product lifecycles and an extended overall brand lifecycle[2] (Gunelius, 2010, p.37).

Indeed the Harry Potter brand lifecycle can be roughly illustrated as a series of sigmoid curves, as a new product is introduced before the previous product reaches the decline stage. Handy (1994) advocates this as a method of revitalising and elongating a brand’s product lifecycle, advising that a new curve be started – that is, a new product introduced – whilst the previous product is in growth or early maturity. Fig 2 illustrates this[3] [4]; the book of Chamber  was released in 1998[5] whilst Stone was still in its growth stage (A), Azkaban in 1999 as Chamber was reaching maturity (B) and Goblet the following year as all three previous books were in their maturity stages (C).

HP_BrandPLC
Fig 2: Harry Potter Brand PLC 1997-2003

Before any of the books could fall into the decline stage of the PLC, the promotion and subsequent launch for a new book would begin, elongating the overall brand lifecycle. This also had the effect of elongating each individual product’s lifecycle. As each book was released, the publicity and hype surrounding it led to increased mass uptake of the brand, causing new adopters to purchase the previous books to ‘catch up’ with the story, keeping the previous book in the maturity stage and preventing it from entering decline.  Each product became a promotional tool for the previous product.

As the series progressed and gained momentum, the introduction and growth phase shortened significantly, with each book in the series gaining higher sales in its initial launch period than previous book. Stone sold circa 70,000 copies in its first six months (D), whereas Chamber sold 300,000 in the first eight months (The Independant, 1999), (Gunelius, 2008). Similarly, evidence suggests that Azkaban sold 68,000 copies in the first two days of release (E) and Goblet a record-breaking 372,775 on its first day of release (F) (The Star Entertainment, 2007) (CESNUR, 2000).

The three-year gap between Goblet and Phoenix could have resulted in the brand entering decline, however the launch of the Stone film in 2001 maintained brand momentum as the brand diversified into a new media. This diversification technique is heavily used by the Harry Potter brand (Appendix 2) to elongate the PLC and reach new markets, for example the move into experiential products, such as Warner Brothers’ Harry Potter Studio Tour and Universal Studio’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Whereas the overall brand does not adhere to the PLC model, individual Harry Potter products loosely adhere to the four stages. Referring to Fig3, as with the brand each product release causes a new growth period for Stone followed by a brief plateau or slight decline. The ‘maturity’ period shown (2001-2012) is a series of sigmoid curves, displaying only shallow ‘dips’ (Gunelius, 2008, p.89), leading to an overall stable period of maturity.  In reality this maturity phase was likely even more stable than illustrated, as the full schedule of book re-releases with different formats, covers and special editions is not mapped, nor are international releases, seasonal peaks or the impacts of branded games, toys and merchandise.

I have assumed that sales plateau between product launches and that whilst film releases do cause an increase in book sales, these increases are not as dramatic as the impacts of a new book launch, as in some cases Harry Potter book and film consumers are distinct, with some consuming only one type of media.

HP_StonePLC
Fig 3: Philosopher’s Stone Product PLC 1994 – 2016

During the maturity stage of Stone, Fig3 shows a slight overall declining trend, as the book and film series moved further away from the first book and consumer attention was drawn towards the later books, films and associated merchandise of the series. After a short re-growth phase in 2012 with the release of the eBook version, with no further products announced and J.K Rowling’s move onto other projects, it is realistic to expect that the product (and brand) had entered a decline phase. However the announcement in 2015 of a new film, West End theatre production and associated book once again successfully attracted audience attention and it is expected will lead to another growth phase and further elongation of the PLC for both product and brand.

In Conclusion

With seven best-selling books, eight blockbuster films, eleven video games and a huge range of merchandise, the Harry Potter brand has enjoyed global success. Frequent product launches, diversification into new media, products and services and high profile promotional campaigns have sustained a nineteen-year brand lifecycle, much of which has been spent in the profitable maturity stage. A strong and loyal fan-base has also sustained brand hype and popularity. With new products recently announced, there seems to be no sign of it entering a decline phase over the next few years.

Whilst the PLC model has proven useful for analysing the brand, the Harry Potter case-study has highlighted the benefits of seeking ways to avoid rigid adherence to the model and of innovating and diversifying to extend the product lifecycle. I believe that additional value may be gained by using the model for real-time analysis in addition to forecasting, to assess where the product is in the lifecycle and seek strategic opportunities to maintain maturity and delay decline.

[1] Throughout, I refer to each product by an abbreviated term as explained in Appendix 1

[2] Throughout I refer to the overall Harry Potter franchise as the brand and each item of media as a product (e.g. the book of Stone or the film of Azkaban).

[3] As accurate and complete sales figures are not widely available, all PLC diagrams are based on what can be extrapolated from various sources and speculated brand behaviour

[4] Only the early years of the PLC are shown, however this pattern continues throughout to the present day

[5] The timeline and release dates refer to the UK market only throughout

Bibliography

Bloomsbury Publishing, 2014. Harry Potter awards – JK Rowling awards – Harry Potter books. [Online]
Available at: http://www.harrypotter.bloomsbury.com/uk/jkrowling/awards/ [Accesssed 19 March 2016]

Brown, C., 2014. Beyond Words The Magic of the Harry Potter Brand. Forbes. [Online]
Available at: http://www.forbes.com/sites/sap/2014/10/31/beyond-words-the-magic-of-the-harry-potter-brand/#4196ac272e40 [Accesssed 19 March 2016]

CESNUR, 2000. Harry Potter Wizardry smashes UK book sales record CESNUR – Centre for Studies on New Religion. [Online]
Available at: http://www.cesnur.org/recens/potter_048.htm
[Accessed 19 March 2016].

Dhalla, N. K. & Yuspeh, S., 1976. Forget the Product Lifecycle Concept!. Harvard Business Review, 54(1), pp. 102-112.

Doyle, P. & Stern, P., 2006. Marketing Management and Strategy. 4th ed. New York: Financial Times/ Prentice Hall.

Gunelius, S., 2008. Harry Potter: The Story of a Global Business Phenomenon. [e-book] Palgrave Macmillan. Available through: Warwick University Library website http://encore.lib.warwick.ac.uk/iii/encore/?lang=eng  [Accesssed 19 March 2016]

Gunelius, S., 2010. The Marketing Magic Behind Harry Potter. Entrepreneur. [Online]
Available at: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/217564
[Accessed 08 March 2016].

Handy, C., 1994. Where are you on the Sigmoid Curve?. Directors and Boards, 19(1), pp. 22-25.

Jobber, D., 2001. Principles & Practice of Marketing. 3rd ed. Maidenhead: McGraw-Hill Publlishing Company.

Kotler, P., Armstrong, G., Wong, V. & Saunders, J., 2008. Principles of Marketing. 5th European ed. Essex: Prentice Hall.

The Independant, 1999. Children’s Books: Bestsellers The Independant. [Online]
Available at: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/childrens-books-bestsellers-1083288.html
[Accessed 19 March 2016].

The Star Entertainment, 2007. A Harry Potter Timeline for Muggles. [Online] The Star Entertainment
Available at: http://www.thestar.com/entertainment/2007/07/14/a_potter_timeline_for_muggles.html
[Accessed 19 March 2016].

Watson, J. & Kellner, T., 2004. J.K. Rowling And The Billion-Dollar Empire. Forbes [Online]
Available at: http://www.forbes.com/2004/02/26/cx_jw_0226rowlingbill04.html

Appendix 2 Bibliography

Amazon.co.uk, 2016. Harry Potter Search Results. Amazon [Online]
Available at: http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=harry+potter&rh=i%3Aaps%2Ck%3Aharry+potter
[Accessed 19 March 2016].

Rowling, J., 2012. Timeline – The Books. J.K Rowling [Online]
Available at: http://www.jkrowling.com/en_GB/#/works/the-books
[Accessed 19 March 2016].

Rowling, J., 2012. Timeline – The Films . J.K Rowling. [Online]
Available at: http://www.jkrowling.com/en_GB/#/works/the-films
[Accessed 19 March 2016].

Rowling, J., 2012. Warner Bros. Studio Tour – The Making of Harry Potter. J.K Rowling. [Online]
Available at: http://www.jkrowling.com/en_GB/#/timeline/warner-bros-studio-tour-london
[Accessed 19 March 2016].

Rowling, J., 2012. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. J.K Rowling. [Online]
Available at: http://www.jkrowling.com/en_GB/#/timeline/wizarding-world-of-harry-potter
[Accessed 19 March 2016].

Universal Studios, 2015. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando Resort. [Online]
Available at: https://www.universalorlando.com/harrypotter/
[Accessed 19 March 2016].

Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc., 2016. Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter. [Online]
Available at: https://www.wbstudiotour.co.uk/
[Accessed 19 March 2016].

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