With the official opening of the new Harry Potter Theme Park here in the UK earlier in the month, we at PAULEY started thinking about how an estimated $15 billion revenue stream generated by the Harry Potter brand might work harder within a different social context.
With seven books, eight films, computer games, mass merchandise and two new theme parks with worldwide appeal, the success of the Harry Potter brand has set new records at every turn. Huge media hype was followed by massive audience expectation that delivered ritual participation centred around each of the new adventures. The story was, literally and figuratively, pure magic.
Just as many famous publishers turned down the first Harry Potter book before it became a hit, nobody thought the Eden Project in Cornwall would be either financially viable or architecturally possible. However, the project has attracted global acclaim for its environmental work and provided a huge boost to the local economy by driving thousands of visitors to the site each year with its unique approach to design and entertainment.
The main aim of any engagement with visitors is to get you to buy into a brand by visiting the site or production and then up-selling merchandise based on the theme. It's certainly true with the Harry Potter theme parks but it's also the case with Eden. It's an educational charity and social enterprise where profits from the on-site shop run community and environmental projects.
The success of the Eden Project is a national triumph. It has raised millions through lottery money (and some controversial corporate partnerships). It begs the question, what if there was a new breed of multi-platform entertainment engagements? Projects with the inspiring social and environmental goals of the Eden Project combined with the mass appeal of Harry Potter; the books, the games, the films, the TV series, the merchandising, the shop, the membership benefits, the global network and the theme park?
Over the last six months we've blogged about global conditions in which population explosions, increasingly extreme weather and food shortages are adding to the noise of social unrest. However, we strongly believe that the key to solving these problems and meeting the challenges of the future is not simply to throw money and resources at them - as is so often the kneejerk reaction from politicians, the media and sections of the public. As with so many problems, the solution lies in creative and innovative thinking; a willingness to challenge the way things are and see new opportunities for the way things could be.
Perhaps too many people fail to recognise that the money and resources to solve global challenges of food shortages and social unrest already exist? Money alone will not produce the desired improvements. Without being used and distributed equitably, money will do what it always has; divide, rule and create inequality and jealousy within society. What's needed is a shift in thinking so that money becomes an enabler of positive change rather than a change in itself.
As the Eden Project reality park proves, socially responsible ventures can succeed. The business models and mechanisms to promote positive and profitable change and tackle global challenges are all around us. In today's inter-connected world, social businesses have a great opportunity to move onto the next level of success through increased popularity, support and visibility. Combining them with the mass appeal of Harry Potter-style franchises would create a real force for good. All we need is the vision and storytelling skills to capture people's imagination and point them in the right direction.
By engaging people with an inspiring story and message, customers become more than simply consumers of a particular entertainment product; they evolve into stakeholders in an entertainment brand with a personal interest in that franchise's success. That's a powerful way of increasing involvement and revenue streams in the name of a good cause.
We urgently need the power of the franchised entertainment industry to improve the way we interact with the planet. Few other industries can mobilise such numbers and inspire people across so many delivery channels, from books and films to merchandise sales and theme parks.
Businesses and management academics are gradually waking up to the benefits of social responsibility. Is it time that the entertainment industry and media readdresses how its power to create thrilling stories, inspire people from all backgrounds, and turn these stories into commercial reality, can be used to achieve the urgent social and environmental objectives that face us all? Or should the remit of the entertainment industry and media always remain unbiased and unrestricted in the interests of press freedom?
If we could combine the mass appeal of Harry Potter with the social conscience of the Eden Project, we'd have an unstoppable engine for progress. We'll introduce our ideas on the subject in our next blog. Until then the question is, would this kind of deliberate social agenda for the entertainment industry be a beneficial step or a malevolent kind of propaganda with the potential to stifle established models of economic development?