Harry Potter and His Marketers’ Tone

Kids love Harry Potter, and marketers love kids. So if you have a product to market—like Coca-Cola, for instance—what you want is to figure a way to imply that the children’s book hero endorses that product, however indirectly. This fall, Warner Bros. plans to release the movie version of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and now the studio has forged what is said to be a $150 million marketing alliance with Coca-Cola.

Often such marketing deals are mutually reinforcing. A fast food chain splashes the movie name all over its stores and packaging, but on the other hand kids who want some movie-related geegaw available only from the chain drag their parents in to spend some money. But nothing so crass will besmirch the creation of writer J.K. Rowling, who has said that she hates action figures and the like. “You won’t see Harry drinking from a can of Coke,” an executive at the beverage company assures.

Details are few at this point, but the upshot seems to be that Coke is spending money not so much to get an endorsement as to give one. We may never find out what Harry Potter thinks about Coke, but Coke wants you to know that it is all for Harry Potter. In this curious process, the Potter properties are practically elevated to the status of some kind of charitable cause—as though Coke were making a prominent donation to improve its reputation for doing good works on behalf of society at large.

What this will really do for Coke and its brands remains murky at best. And of course, we’ll see how it really plays out. The fictional young man and his famous spectacles will appear on the packaging of some of Coca-Cola’s brands, including Coke itself, Minute Maid, and Hi-C. And depending on the details, in-store displays and the like may have the effect of making Potter a subtle booster of Coke products and not just a recipient of Coke’s largesse.

But the fact that Coke feels it must tread so cautiously in the early going is excellent news for the brand called Potter and thus for Warner Bros., too. After all, the last thing the film’s handlers would want to do in the process of releasing and promoting a global blockbuster is leave the impression that the innocent and lovable Potter was getting dragged into something so unpleasant as the process of commerce.