Online Video, CGM Part of Borders’ Magic Marketing for Final Harry Potter Book

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In the run-up to the July 21 release of the much-anticipated final installment of the Harry Potter series, many booksellers are busy debating the best price point to take in a highly competitive marketplace. Borders Group, however, is embroiled in an altogether different discussion: one with its customers about the burning questions on Harry Potter fans’ minds. Is Severus Snape friend or foe? Will Hogwarts open? And who will die in Book 7?

Borders Group, which operates more than 1,200 Borders and Waldenbooks stores worldwide, has been planning its marketing campaign for the release of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” for several years. “We started from the perspective of going where the fan is and talking to them in the language they speak—not sounding like a retailer,” said Rich Fahle, the company’s director of content.

Working with key partners, such as fan Web site and Phoenix Rising, a five-day conference that explores all things Harry Potter, Borders created a multichannel marketing campaign to court serious fans in the months preceding Book 7’s arrival.

Online marketing has been a key part of the campaign—in particular, online video and consumer-generated media (CGM). In May, Borders representatives attended Phoenix Rising, where they hosted a panel about pivotal Potter character Severus Snape. The company also sponsored the conference’s Quidditch tournament and partnered with to assemble fans at the event for a video book club discussion on such topics as “Dumbledore’s monumental mistakes” and “Will Harry live or die?”

These and other events and interviews were filmed for use on a dedicated Harry Potter at Borders Web site ( The site also includes an online preorder form, downloadable excerpts from the first six Harry Potter audio books, Borders’ Harry Potter product catalog and links to discussion boards, where users can comment on existing topics or create new discussion threads.

Borders has even made consumer discussion a part of its retail marketing. In February, it introduced a free sticker promotion for customers who reserved advance copies of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.” Fans were encouraged to choose from one of two stickers—”Snape will betray” or “Snape is loyal”—publicly declaring their opinion on the character’s intentions.

For the July 21 book release, the company is planning to hold in-store Grand Hallows Ball events where fans can assemble and will offer a free “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” poster with purchase.

The campaign has allowed Borders to reach well beyond its 15 million e-mail subscribers. “It’s gone totally viral. People are watching from all over … and there are a lot of repeat views,” Fahle said. The average viewing time of the video book club filmed at Phoenix Rising—an hourlong program—has been in the 30-to-40-minute range.

According to interactive marketing expert Brian Crooks, executive creative director at Avenue A|Razorfish, Borders’ decision to target Harry Potter fans as opposed to the average consumer on the street has the potential to pay big dividends. “Here are people that love Harry Potter and want to steep themselves in every last ounce of this brand,” he said. “Things rarely get this good.”

And the ardor of Harry Potter fans could not only mean good news for Borders but also for the entire bookselling industry. Sarah Rand, director of publications and research at National Retail Federation, said opportunities abound for sellers to use Book 7 to “create a long-term customer, not just to sell this one book”—for example, by rewarding “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” purchases with discounts on future orders.

In other words, Harry Potter’s fate may be sealed on July 21 but, for savvy marketers, the arrival of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” could just be the beginning.

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