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CTAM Summit: Casting a Spell On Harry Potter’s Biggest Fans

Orlando -- Marketing the theme park exhibit for one of the best-selling book franchises of all time may seem like it would be a turnkey effort, but for The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando Resorts, that was not the case.

“Expectations were enormous,” Alice Norsworthy, executive vice president of marketing and sales for Universal Orlando Resorts, said at the CTAM Summit general session here on Oct. 14. “Imagine being the potential one who missed this big opportunity for the company.”

To get the series’ ardent fan base excited about the theme park, Norsworthy said her team stuck to four principles in marketing the opening: Stay true to the Harry Potter stories, reflect the heritage of Universal, stay close to the fans and expand the theme park’s network of partners.

Initially, Universal first went to the fan base to drum up interest, sending an invitation to a midnight webcast to seven Harry Potter fan sites that then spread the word about the announcement. Then the marketing went dark for two and a half years, with Norsworthy’s team sending only a few photos during that time until they revealed the full details of the attraction through another webcast in September 2009.

Universal then officially launched its TV ad campaign with a spot in the 2010 Super Bowl — “We wanted to go big,” Norsworthy said. Then began the media blitz with its corporate partners: NBC’s Today show held a contest to search for a worthy school to win a field trip to the park, The Celebrity Apprentice filmed a segment on marketing the attraction and Warner Bros.’ Ellen shot the talk show in Orlando to get a sneak peek at the attraction.

By the time the Wizarding World opened in spring 2010, the marketing team had rolled out a TV special showing the process of building the attraction, fan contests to win trips, themed airplanes and travel planning tie-ins, among other marketing efforts.

And for Norsworthy and her team, it paid off — on the day the Wizarding World opened, traffic was already backed up outside the Universal Resort parking garage at 5 a.m.