Warner Bros. Entertainment and Universal Orlando Resort announced in May the construction of a 20-acre Harry Potter theme park at the Universal Orlando Resort. Both companies have based the park--The Wizarding World of Harry Potter--on the famed seven-book series. Now organizers are looking for ways to connect and interact with fans through online polls, blogs and Web sites that give them a voice in shaping the experience at the park.
"The key influencers of the Harry Potter brand are living and breathing 24 hours a day on the Internet," Cynthia Gordon, vice president/new media partnerships at Universal Orlando Resort, tells Marketing Daily. Park executives affectionately call bloggers on some of the most influential fan sites "the AP of the HP world."
Sites like MuggleNet.com and HarryPotter.com provide a strong marketing connection between the Harry Potter brand and the zillions of fans worldwide. Bloggers follow news in real time to get a clear idea of where the company is heading, or how top brass feel about certain market forces affecting the industry. Almost instantaneously, the thoughts of company executives are revealed as they occur.
The insight into the power of bloggers came shortly after sending a viral marketing e-mail and sharing information on the Harry Potter theme park with seven Web masters. Following the web cast that detailed the agreement with Warner Bros., Universal Orlando's Web site experienced a 400% spike in traffic, the majority of visitors coming from links posted on mugglenet.com.
The number of interested fans flocking to the press room on the day of the announcement spiked, too--from 30,000 to 1.5 million. The news became No. 13 for the most-searched topic on Google. Now, about 60,000 fans are registered on the Universal Orlando Resort's site to get updates on park happenings. "You don't control it," Gordon says. Just let it happen, and "don't stand in its way."
The park plans to leak information slowly. There are no plans for mass mailings or press releases to general consumers, the travel industry or media. When ready, park organizers will direct fans to the news "with a wink and a nod" through sites and blogs.
The idea isn't a random experimental marketing stunt. Analysts say more U.S. consumers are visiting blogs. Peter Kim, Forrester Research senior analyst, believes the strategy makes sense, but because traveling to the park for some could become a high-ticket item, Universal Orlando Resort may want to invest financially in generating buzz.
"They could hold a contest to find out what butterbeer tastes like, fly the [winner] to the park to taste it, film the event and then upload the video to YouTube," he said. "Integrating offline with online would give the campaign more legs."
With one eye on overseeing the theme park, Rowling--who began her career as a novelist writing in Edinburgh cafes--has the other on a detective novel. The author has been spotted with a notebook in hand at coffee shops in Scotland, a British newspaper reported Saturday. Rowling--now Britain's richest woman worth $1 billion--according to Forbes magazine, wrote initial drafts of the Potter series in city cafes.