LEADER: Potter proves to be a wizard of publicity

Harry Potter versus Asda: silly spat or PR masterstroke? Is this writer alone in suspecting the latter?

Danny Rogers, Editor, <em>PRWeek</em>
Danny Rogers, Editor, PRWeek

On Monday Asda issued a statement accusing publisher Bloomsbury of ‘holding children to ransom’ by hiking up the recom­mended price of the new Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Asda’s director of general merchandise said: ‘It seems like Bloomsbury needs to do a quid-ditch, as they have sent their prices up north on the Hogwarts Express.’ An interesting choice of language from a senior business executive.

On Tuesday we had publisher Bloomsbury ‘refusing’ to release half a million copies of the book to Asda’s supermarkets, giving the reason that Asda had some unpaid invoices on previous Potter tomes.

The story climbed the agenda of newspapers, websites and broadcast media alike. The main current affairs radio shows heard senior spokespeople from Bloomsbury and Asda battling it out.

‘Bloomsbury is being potty about Potter’, quipped Asda’s PRO on Five Live’s morning show, before promising that its stores would be selling the book for £8.97 on Saturday. ‘I think Asda will be a Harry Potter-free zone,’ countered the Bloomsbury spokeswoman.

By Wednesday morning, we saw another set of headlines. ‘Asda’s deal to sell £8 Potter,’ wrote The Sun. ‘Happy ending to Harry Potter row,’ sighed Sky News.

So the upshot was millions of pounds of publicity, the main message being that consumers should flock to Asda this weekend to get their ‘cheap’ copy of the book. Both parties deny this was all a brilliant PR stunt.

There is a nagging doubt about the spat over the invoices. Would Asda, moreover Walmart, really have wanted to convey the message that it was a reluctant payer of suppliers? And the row did occasionally sound genuinely unsavoury on Today.

But one also has to ask why Bloomsbury made such a fuss over invoices worth just tens of thousands of pounds?

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