When creating a promotional campaign, the fear of burning out too quickly or over-promising results is almost always a present concern. We learn in Public Relations 101 the importance of engaging your audience. When the plans for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter began in 2007, Universal Studios made knowing its audience top priority.
Based off of the highly acclaimed book series by J.K. Rowling, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme park was created to provide Harry Potter enthusiasts with the ability to experience the world created in these series. The fans of Harry Potter have created numerous sites and fan pages dedicated to the witchcraft and wizardry phenomenon. Universal Studios recognized the extent of its Harry Potter audience and got them involved from the very beginning.
Since the Harry Potter fans are known for their loyalty to the brand, the campaign used the impact of word of mouth to promote the new theme park. Cindy Gordon, vice president of new media and marketing partnerships at Universal Orlando Resort, told seven people from the most popular Harry Potter fan sites about the new theme park through a webcast. News about the creation of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter took flight faster than the snitch in a Quidditch match.
“If we hadn’t gone to fans first there could have been a backlash,” said Gordon as cited in the e-book The New Rules of Viral Marketing: How Word of Mouse Spreads Your Ideas for Free by David Meerman Scott, marketing strategist and best-selling author of Real-Time Marketing & PR.
Quickly after the webcast, these seven fans blogged about the news. Soon the news went viral reaching more than 350 million people. The use of social networking as a promotional tool to promote this campaign was an unconventional and inexpensive way to spread the buzz.
And spread the buzz it did. According to a wftv.com article, Universal Orlando spokesman Tom Schroder said on the morning of opening day 5,000 people were waiting in line to get into the park.
“I think the reality is the way that people are engaged is increasingly online . . . especially for the primary audience of that [Wizarding World of Harry Potter] theme park,” said Scott.
When the park opened on June 18, 2010, the crowds were greeted by several cast members, including Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) and Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley). These actors pulled the curtain opening the entrance to the park.
“What Universal Orlando has done with Harry Potter is really, really fantastic,” Radcliffe said at the opening ceremony, according to the wftv.com article. “We’re all kind of very grateful that the next part of the Harry Potter legacy has been so well-done and so well-made.”
Additionally, the theme park appeals to its customers by treating the best customers with special privileges. Scott said that because he stayed at one of Universal’s resorts, he was able to enter the park one hour earlier than the general admission.
“To be able to walk right in and get on the ride, and walk off and get back on a second time is really special,” Scott said. He said the reason this is so beneficial is because customers typically have to wait in long lines just to get into the park.
These special privileges and the meticulous attention to detail at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter keep fans coming back for more and will allow for this theme park to remain a popular attraction as time passes.
“The Wizarding World of Harry Potter will be able to remain timeless because of the magic it presents to the park visitors, whether it’s through the authenticity of the park or the atmosphere,” said Matt Bell, a junior at The University of Alabama, after his visit to the theme park. “The entire park was setup like Hogsmeade Village; even the buildings looked like they came off the pages of the book!”
Since the opening of the park Universal Orlando’s attendance has increased by 20 percent and annual revenue has increased by 41 percent.
“From what I can tell it’s a phenomenon that is continuing,” Scott said. “If I were running it, I would just not want to screw it up . . . I wouldn’t do anything different.”
Scott also thinks that Universal Studios’ PR and marketing techniques for the theme park are working very well.
“I think Harry Potter will continue to be popular for a really long time, because it is important to a huge group of people,” Scott said. “I think it has potential to be a continued success for years — decades even.”