I wonder if JK Rowling ever considered, on her train journey back from Manchester, just how big and commercially exploited the Harry Potter brand would be. I have watched the films, read a couple of the books and even purchased a bit of merchandise over the years. But my latest encounter with the brand left a very sour taste in my mouth and, in my eyes, destroyed all the magic this inspirational lady worked hard to create. When you hand over the rights (OK only movie rights in this instance) to a corporate giant you can damage the core brand values.
I visited the Harry Potter Experience at the Leavesden studios over the weekend. I’ll admit I was more excited than my 10 year old daughter when we reached the car park. So what went wrong? Well for 90% of the time it was just what I had hoped it would be. A totally engaging museum feel, where the sets, the atmosphere, and the experience made you want to be part of a production. The people employed to help, advise and present were all enthusiastic….but then you started to feel a new character beginning to take over. No, not a wizard an elf or a mystical creature. No something much worse. The commercial or financial controller! A person who knows nothing of user/visitor experience and it’s impact on brands but only of tactical exploitation.
Suddenly, I became very aware that this was starting to feel like a ride at a theme park. Firstly, my picture was taken and offered back to me at an extortionate sum. But to top it all my exit was channelled through a maze of merchandise, screaming children and distraught parents. I thought I had just jumped off the Nemesis ride at Alton Towers. Row after row of cheap plastic wands and cups for £25 a piece. Unbelievable!