Since 2009, Harry Potter: The Exhibition has immersed more than 4 million fans into the world of J.K. Rowling’s books. The exhibition, which launched in Chicago and is currently on view at Palais 2 of the Brussels Expo in Belgium, will travel to The Netherlands next February. But besides revealing what’s inside Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, with displays inspired by the “Harry Potter” film sets and authentic costumes, props and creatures from the films, the exhibition itself is an education in experiential marketing, a lesson in how to create dynamic experiences that forge a lasting, emotional connection with target audiences.
As Peter van Roden, svp-global themed entertainment at Warner Bros Consumer Products, which owns the licensing rights to the “Harry Potter” franchise, puts it, “There are some brands out there that you can slap on a t-shirt, and you don’t have to worry about. It doesn’t hurt the brand in any way because it is appropriate. Harry is a different thing. Harry is of a world, and the way you approach almost every project around it, no matter what it is, we all think of it in terms of how you touch that.”
We take you on an in-depth tour of Harry Potter: The Exhibit in the November/December issue of Event Marketer. In the meantime, here are three insights about this extraordinary exhibition from Eddie Newquist, chief creative officer at GES and one of the wizards behind the experience. Maybe you’ll even want to hop on a plane to Brussels to see it for yourself.
1. Make it Real.
Harry Potter: The Exhibition is laid out in such a way that not only do attendees feel like they are on a physical journey, but an emotional one as well, one that involves human interaction, fun and a bit of apprehension. The lesson here: Ask yourself, what does the event really mean? How can it make an impact on people, whether it is 45 minutes or an hour, that will last a lifetime? “Not everything in regards to events is about social media,” Newquist says.
2. Add Some Drama.
“If millennials are having an extraordinary experience, they want to take photos and selfies and post them on social media,” Newquist says. “They are looking for experiences that they can share on Instagram and Facebook, and we’re happy about that. So my advice to event marketers is don’t be boring. Don’t have a 12-foot by 12-foot booth that has nothing exciting to share about it. If you have something that is unusual or exciting to share at an event, treat it with some drama and some theater so that people will want to share it.” For instance, right off the bat, attendees are confronted with the Hogwart’s Express and its belching smoke, and the theme music lets them know they’re about to embark on a journey through the exhibition.
3. Make it Worth it.
After all, if you’re expecting people to leave their houses or offices and go to an event, make sure that, whether it is a business customer or guest, you reward them for their time and effort. “Whether it’s an agricultural show or an aerospace show, there is always a reason to stage a bit of a celebration or a welcome, and if you do that in the right way, you are going to have much greater success than if you don’t,” says Newquist. (Agency: GES, Las Vegas.)