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Harry Potter Case Study - Rebranding a Licensing Franchise

client: Warner Bros.

Rebranding a licensing franchise...
to become one of the most lucrative licenses in the world

When Harry Potter 1 (Sorcerers Stone) and 2 (Chamber of Secrets) opened in movie theaters, they easily swept box office records to become two of the highest-grossing films in movie history. It was no surprise. The news was filled with footage of kids lined up around the block waiting for bookstores to open whenever a new Potter installment was published. Everywhere, kids lugged around thick tombs and could be seen reading at soccer games, sleep-overs and pretty much everywhere their parents dragged them along for errands.


The only surprise was that the licensing program for both films had been a financial failure.


Licensing revenues from all of the products and brand partnerships associated with a brand are typically a key revenue stream for kids properties. Potter licensing revenues had completely under-performed expectations for both films. Warner Bros. executives investigated what had happened after having to liquidate unsold merchandise from HP2. They cut deals with angry licensees who wanted out of multi-picture contracts. They promised the author and producer that action would be taken. Heads rolled.

My boss, Linda Salvati, an experienced creative director who had launched a string of successful licensing brands including Winnie the Pooh for Disney and Power Rangers for Saban, was hired to lead the creative vision of a new Harry Potter. She hired me. Our job was to re-launch the Potter franchise license brand within a year – when Harry Potter 3 would open in theaters worldwide. 

She oversaw the core product vision (Art and product style guides for every kind of product category) and put me in charge of the retail brand/marketing vision (packaging, point-of-sale, etc.)... but collaborated tightly on both to create a seamless brand. We immersed ourselves in Warner's research into how the brand and products were perceived by kids and parents... and discovered a key insight; a theme running through all of the customer feedback... continue

Case Study

The Harry Potter licensing business was struggling despite record box office success of HP2...


With a small team and tight deadline, Harry Potter 3 relaunched the Potter licensing business to become the most lucrative product licensing franchise in Warner Bros.' history...

Case Study Overview Pages:

The previous creative teams had developed the Potter licensing brand and products to reflect the look of the best-selling books. These were pastel illustrations and wood-cut chapter art; beautiful artwork, but squarely in the visual world of childrens book illustration.


By contrast, the kids who we surveyed described Harry Potter as an action hero. Their action hero. Not a children's illustration.


Hogwarts was not some whimsical fairytale castle rendered in pastels in their minds; it was a magical alternate universe of danger, mystery and discovery. There were wicked sorcerers there. Kids who went down the wrong hallway could get eaten. And the only thing you could count on is your friends, a few mentors (who wouldn't solve your problems for you), and your own abilities – whatever they were and whether you were ready or not - when danger called.

We got to work. The new Harry Potter franchise would be more dynamic, more realistic (but still magical) and more like an action movie. I art directed the new photoshoots; Harry was no longer smiling but swirling around to cast a spell. Hogwarts was no longer a toy castle but a distant, mysterious form looming out of moonlit fog. Linda directed a new direction for the apparel program; no longer silly and soft... we designed a more edgy goth/rock and collegiate set of designs that positioned the brand as pre-teen rather than child. She even sold in an exclusive line for teens and young adults at Hot Topic – at the time a retailer that dominated teen trends. Our artists worked directly with the producer to make sure that everything we made fit the vision of the upcoming film. 

When Harry Potter 3 (Prisoner of Azkaban) released, it had lower box office than HP 2 (although still one of the top 10 record-holders at the time)...


...but the newly branded licensing franchise took off, outselling every projection and becoming Warner Bros.' most lucrative licensed property.

We quickly pivoted to standardizing the style guide materials to keep the product sales going during production of HP 4 (Goblet of Fire). We produced the updated style guides for product, packaging and in-store as a template for all future Potter releases. 

By the time Harry Potter 4 had released, the Harry Potter licensing franchise had generated over $1B in revenue. After the release of Harry Potter 5, the brand had become the most lucrative movie licensing franchise in history.

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