On a recent trip to FAO Schwartz, I couldn’t help but notice the prominent display of Harry Potter merchandise. The front of the store was overflowing with stuffed Hedwigs, electronic Quidditch games, card decks reminiscent of Pokémon and all sorts of gadgets to drive kids mad with desire and send adults reaching for their wallets.
On further exploration of the store, I discovered a second Harry Potter section, just as big, on the second floor. With a table full of Harry Potter Legos and a section in the game board corner dedicated to games and puzzles inspired by the books and upcoming movie, I think it’s safe to say that the wave of Harry Potter merchandising is in full gear. Created by several companies including Mattel and Gund, most of the toys are cute, clever, or at least nicely crafted, as well as pricey. The doll collection is well detailed and, unlike most other dolls, these have fuzzy faces, a unique and inviting touch. The stuffed animals are typical, but the beanie Hedwig is especially soft and cuddly.
The various electronic games have intriguing names, such as “Levitating Challenge” and “Labyrinth.” However, while the actual games seem interesting, in reality, they are rather complicated and not suited for hours of fun. For example, the Powercaster Playset consists of a platform on which two action figures are placed as well as two casting stones. Depending on the strength of the spell of the casting stone used, one of the figures is ejected. The strength of the casting stone is always the same, so the possible outcomes are limited.
On the technology side, the Harry Potter hand-held electronic games are outdated. The tiny, colorless, dot matrix screens are a far cry from the technological genius of a Gameboy Advance, but young children may be lured by the simplicity of the games and the colorful and creative 3-D control pads. The Fluffy Action Game actually snaps the mouth of two of its three heads on the player’s thumbs. “That’s right,” says the packaging, “his mouth could suddenly snap closed and chomp your fingers! If you’re brave enough to face this challenge and many others, a whole world of adventure awaits you.” Additionally, the Lego Hogwarts Castle and Diagon Alley are impressive, as are the clever candy stocking-stuffers, such as Snape’s Potions Candy and Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans (right out of the book). Educational options include Spells and Potions (a chemistry set) and Teleidoscope Construction (a cross between a kaleidoscope and a telescope).
It is hard to ignore the similarities between Pokémon and Harry Potter merchandising, the most obvious example being the Harry Potter Card Game. Ironically, Pokémon merchandising is now 50 percent off. Harry Potter has taken over the throne. Certainly looking to become the Pokémon of a couple of seasons ago and the Power Rangers of yesteryear, the Harry Potter phenomenon seems to have employed most of the common merchandising gimmicks.
However, although it forged a $150 million dollar alliance with Coca-Cola, the movie lacks a fast food tie-in. According to Warner Brother’s domestic marketing chief Brad Ball, “Packaging [Harry Potter] with a meal combo would have taken away from her [J. K. Rowling’s] philosophy.
Even the alliance with Coca-Cola is not conventional. Coca-Cola purports to organize a campaign for literacy, with Harry as the spokesperson. And, images of Harry Potter will appear on Coca-Cola product packaging, but he will not be pictured actually drinking the products. There will also be no product placement in the movie itself. Even so, Save Harry!, an anti-Coke/Potter alliance campaign condemns the global marketing rights given to Coca-Cola for promoting consumption of unhealthy beverages. The Save Harry! website calls the alliance “a sales vehicle for liquid candy!” and urges J. K. Rowling to “save Harry from the grasp of Coca-Cola.” The reaction makes one wonder how far the campaigning would have gone if the alliance had been with a full-fledged fast food chain, a common practice.
So, whether your little cousin wants a golden snitch or just has to have a bag of Every Flavor Beans this holiday season, the toys exist. How long they will stay on the shelves remains to be seen.