It was two years ago (November 1, 1999) that Media Watch first
wrote about the Harry Potter phenomenon. At that time, the buzz for the
boy wizard's adventures was just gearing up in America. Now, the Warner
Bros. film of the first installment of the series is taking the craze to a whole new level. Whereas two years ago the series had a cult following
which was growing steadily, "media hype (is now) at a frenzied pitch,"
according to The Kansas City Star (November 13).
Previews of the film, which opened at the box office on November 16,
have been very encouraging and noted for being a faithful adaptation of
the book. The Buffalo News (November 13) reported, "No one expects the
film to be anything other than a smash hit." From coast to coast, there
was talk of heavy advance sales for the Harry Potter movie. The Houston
Chronicle (November 12) and others reported that advance ticket sales
have set records at fandango.com and moviefone.com, two of the leading
online sites for movie tickets.
With such strong sales, a few papers voiced high hopes for a
record-breaking performance for being Warner Bros. best selling movie
ever, outdoing Batman, or for posting the largest ever three-day opening
weekend sales figures, currently held by Jurassic Park 2: The Lost
Two years ago, critics of the Harry Potter fantasy series most
frequently charged that the books promoted witchcraft and that they
should be banned.
This type of criticism is largely gone. Instead, critics are now focused
on the merchandising tie-in that is accompanying the movie's
The Washington Post (November 13) reported that Warner Bros. sold
merchandising rights to 89 different companies, covering the full gamut
of items and trinkets that the youth market would buy: action figures,
clothes, toys, etc. Amazingly, the article also wrote, "But people at
Warner Bros. say the company worked hard not to overwhelm kids with toys
and other licensed things."
Coca-Cola was often singled out for criticism due to its $150
million advertising campaign tied to Harry Potter. The Center for
Science in the Public Interest campaigned against Coke, saying the
company is "taking advantage of kids by using images of Harry Potter to
sell them products that are bad for their health" (The Washington Post,
The public didn't seem to buy the line that Warner Bros. had tried to
minimize the amount of merchandising. USA Today (November 14) described
one critic as "repulsed by the tsunami of Potter-related merchandise"
and another who thought that, with their "media onslaught ... media
companies are crowding out children's imaginations."
This, in turn, led to a secondary criticism. There were a handful of
articles that lamented the fact that the books were being made into
Many of these critics were fans who just wished that they would be able
to use their own imagination to envision what Harry Potter's world looks
like, rather than to automatically think of a Hollywood producer's
While Harry Potter will be phenomenally successful, some voices in the
media are suggesting that the over-the-top merchandising campaign is
- Evaluation and analysis by CARMA International. Media Watch can be
found at www.carma.com.