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Harry Potter Aims to Bewitch Grown-Ups

Ads featuring bikers, skateboarders and couch potatoes are intended to appeal to 18- to 35-year-olds, perhaps those without children.

September 28, 2003|Hillel Italie | Associated Press Writer

NEW YORK — The ad shows a tattooed biker, scowling and shaggy-haired, against a harsh backdrop of blue and black.

"Flying cars. Fire Whiskey. Death Eaters," reads the caption above the picture.

At the bottom, next to the catch phrase "We all have our reasons. What's yours?" comes the real pitch:

"There's some pretty tough stuff in Harry Potter -- bad guys so bad they're called Death Eaters. That's one of the wicked reasons even bikers think Harry Potter is cool enough to ride with them."

Having already conquered the children's market, Scholastic Inc., the U.S. publisher of J. K. Rowling's multimillion-selling series, is targeting adults, ages 18 to 35. Potter ads featuring bikers, skateboarders and couch potatoes will appear in Rolling Stone and other magazines throughout October.

"We felt we needed to think out of the box and reach out to readers who would not normally pick up a copy of Harry Potter unless somebody placed it in their hands," Barbara Marcus, president of Scholastic Children's Books, said recently.

Besides Rolling Stone, the promotions will run in US Weekly, Outside Magazine and Time Out New York, the only one of the four magazines in which Scholastic has advertised before. The image is new, but Marcus says the covers of the Potter books will not be changed.

"We think the covers are great," Marcus said. "We just want the ad campaign to pique the interest of adult readers enough so that they pick up the books."

Rival publishers say they have never heard of a children's book being advertised in such a way, but praise Scholastic for doing so.

"It sounds very funny and witty," said Lisa Holton, senior vice president and publisher of Disney's children's books division. "I think it's fabulous Scholastic is going after that audience.... A lot of us, I would think, are rooting for Scholastic to do really well."

Statistics released by Scholastic raise the question of just how many readers are left to reach. Sales for "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," the fifth of a planned seven Potter books by Rowling, have reached 11 million just three months after publication. That well exceeds the announced print run of 9.3 million and approaches the 11.3 million hardcover total of "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire," the fourth Potter book published three years ago.

And grown-ups have long been an important market for the Potter books, with a consumer study released in 2000 showing that 43% of purchases were by adults.

"But there's a strong 18-35 demographic that may not have come into contact with Harry, people who probably don't have children," Marcus said. "What we're saying is: 'Harry Potter is for someone who likes to shop, likes to read gossip columns, likes to have fun with their books.' "

One ad shows a dark-eyed woman wearing a sheer sleeveless dress and shopping for shoes. "There are some pretty stylish things in Harry Potter -- invisibility cloaks, i.e., the only item that goes with everything in a girl's closet," the caption reads.

"That's just one of the fabulous reasons so many fashionistas are totally cool with being seen toting Harry Potter."

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