The Dollar Power of a Good Story: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Boosts Universal Theme Park Attendance by 50%
The thought leadership and content marketing realm is becoming more like popular entertainment with a slew of channels and choices, and no time to keep up with it all. To stand out requires attention to detail, respect for your audience, and a really great story.
My oldest son grew up with J.K. Rowling’s books, reading them over and over again. He literally grew up with the movies and the core actors who played Harry Potter, Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley. He loves the stories but is a little too reserved to ever want to dress up in Gryffindor house garb or casually use wizard lingo. Or so I thought until we visited Universal’s Islands of Adventure during a family trip to Orlando last month.
The different sections of Universal’s Islands of Adventure theme park are arranged around a central lagoon. The entrance has a vaguely Middle Eastern/African market feel, followed by (going counterclockwise around the circle) a whimsical Seuss Landing with marvelously bright colors and great low-key rides for younger kids. Next is the Lost Continent area, which is interesting in a Greek mythology kind of way. But the significance of the imagery is lost on most kids, and adults too really. And then you enter the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Gawking with scores of people milling about in a King’s Cross platform 9 ¾ kind of frenzy, we obviously weren’t the only ones struck by the resonance of the attraction. The details are superb. Screaming Mandrakes and fidgeting quidditch bludgers are displayed in the shop windows. For lunch my son gnawed on a turkey leg from The Three Broomsticks. Over the course of the day he had two Butterbeers; they are like a caramel and butterscotch slushie with whipped cream on top, a tad sweet. In Olivander’s wand shop—makers of fine wands since 382 B.C.—Olivander selected my son from our group and a wand chose him as dramatized by a glowing light and sudden gust of wind. He was thrilled.
As a casual reader of the books I hadn’t anticipated that Universal’s Harry Potter world would strike a deep chord with me as well, but it did. By comparison, the other areas at Universal are like any amusement park where the rides and attractions all have loose themes, but they seem superficial and anachronistic in comparison. Some are horribly dated, based on bygone cartoons and comics characters that even I don’t recognize. Others, like the Jaws attraction that closed a week ago after several decades, are past their prime. Although our kids were able to pet a “baby dinosaur”—which our 5-year-old is still a bit confused about—the Jurassic Park area was almost deserted in early December (and neglected with more than one of the exhibits out of commission).
Universal has reported that attendance at Islands of Adventure increased by an amazing 50% in 2011, driven entirely by the Harry Potter attraction. That’s the power of a great story. Recognizing a good thing they’ve announced plans to expand the Wizarding World to the company’s other Orlando theme park next door.
What does the commercial success of Universal’s Harry Potter attraction have to do with generating effective business-to-business thought leadership and content marketing? In a world where most B2B content fails to be overwhelmingly compelling or exciting—generally meeting expectations but forgotten as we move on to the next thing—it offers a marvelous example of how striking a current and new and well told story can be.