Oh, the wit and wisdom of Jar Jar Binks. The incoherent sidekick and his pals have taught Warner Bros. an important vocabulary word: mod-er-a-tion. The Star Wars merchandising machine became its own cautionary tale last year after Lucasfilm glutted the market with goodies (and not-so-goodies), many of which were destined for the discount bin. With its greedily anticipated Harry Potter line, Warner Bros. is attempting a more controlled approach. ”When Star Wars was introduced, you went into stores and there were hundreds of products,” says analyst Jim Silver, editor of the trade publication The Toy Book. ”Here, you’re not going to be overwhelmed. They’re very smart. They realize they shouldn’t do that if they want this to last.”
Indeed, the studio — which owns all licensing and merchandising rights to the first two J.K. Rowling books and upcoming films — will this fall introduce a mere trickle of tie-ins, based solely on the tomes. ”We’re being really careful with this,” says Dan Romanelli, president of Warner Bros. worldwide consumer products. ”We’re being very protective. Less is more.” In keeping with that mantra, Warner Bros. has limited many of its licensees on the actual number of items they can produce of any line. In October, Warner Bros. Studio Stores will feature the first few products, including clothes with the Hogwarts school insignia, backpacks, and journals. A few more tie-ins will pop up toward the holidays — but just a few. It’s surprising considering industry experts are calling Harry Potter a sure thing: a property with a global fan base, cross-gender appeal, and, of course, magic.
Still, all modesty aside, make no mistake. You’re going to see a lot of a certain young sorcerer over the next 18 months. Mattel, the master toy licensee, already has more retail orders for its Harry Potter trivia game, due in October, than it can fill. Come holiday time, the company will release high-end collectible figures; plush dolls and action figures will hit early 2001. Hasbro will contribute handheld electronic games, trading cards, and Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans — including sardine and black pepper. (”Earwax is being contemplated,” Romanelli says.) And more than 40 other firms have nabbed some part of the action, most of which will be targeted to the November 2001 movie release — where the real test of oversaturation comes: Hallmark will spin out gift wrap; Johnson & Johnson will deliver toothbrushes and Band-Aids; and other companies have licenses to produce train sets, cake-decorating supplies, throw pillows, rainwear, and denim bags. Many of the goods, like the candy and trading cards, are pulled directly from the books’ plotlines.
”You’d think it was calculated — it’s just good storytelling,” says Christopher Byrne, editor of The Toy Report. ”What can be more fun than fantasizing you’ve got magical powers — especially when your life is controlled by getting into the minivan, doing your homework, going to bed” in your Harry Potter sleepwear, under your Harry Potter bed linens, in the glow of your Harry Potter night-light.