Growing up, I was a HUGE fan of the Harry Potter franchise (I still am!). When I was in elementary school Harry Potter was already a global phenomenon. J.K Rowling had finished the last book: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows when I was in first grade. As a result, like everyone who grew up in the early to mid 2000s, I was hooked on everything Harry Potter had to offer.
It wasn’t until 2001, when the books were made into movies, did Harry Potter quickly become its own brand. Today, you’d be hard pressed to walk into any retail store and not find something with the Harry Potter logo on it. From Video Games, Websites, Theme Park rides, Movies, Podcasts, Youtube channels, blogs, fan accounts, wiki accounts, merchandise and so much more, Harry Potter is one of the best examples of a brand using multi-modal media to reach several audiences.
The first form of media relevant to this topic (and perhaps biggest!) is the movies. There are 8 in total released from 2001-2011, and the series was one of the biggest film series of all time grossing around 7.7 billion dollars worldwide! In fact, the last film in the series: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, was at the time of its release in 2011, the third highest grossing film of all time. Pretty crazy.
The movies were able to bring the books to life, and I believe they did so rather successfully while also remaining very entertaining. Iconic places such as Diagon Alley and Hogwarts looked amazing on the big screen in a way that just wasn’t possible on the page. Movies also have the ability to include musical scores, which added another dimension to the “magic.” Therefore, the movies were a great way in giving everyone a reference to how the wizarding world looked and sounded like, rather than just leaving it up to our own imaginations.
However, with a movie come some affordances. One of which being that movies have a run time around 2-2 1/2 hours. Because of this, they were not able to include all the things the books were simply due to there being too much content to fit into the time restriction. This is something that was more so seen with books 4-6 as they were some of the longest in the series clocking in around 600-800 pages. Since they didn’t have the convenience of being split into two parts like the last book was, fans of the book miss out on some pretty great side plots and characters (Like Ludo Bagman, Peeves the poltergeist, Winky, More Dobby/House elf exposition, to name a few) due to several chapters worth of content needing to be deleted. While this isn’t that big of an issue for some who is just interested in watching the films, die hard fans of the books might be a little disappointed that due to the affordance of a movie, a particular aspect of the books they liked may not have been included.
These days, the movies are widely available for purchase on just about everywhere you can purchase movies. They have also been made available on a streaming services as well with subscription, however due to licensing agreements, they tend to move around a lot. (As of right now, all 8 films are completely free on IMDBTv!)
Another aspect of the Harry Potter franchise is video games. The franchise currently has 21 video game adaptations, with one on the way slated to arrive on the Playstation 5 at some point in 2021. From personal experience, I played “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” on the PS2 which came out in 2004, the same year as the movie. This game allowed the user to take control of the three protagonists Harry, Ron, and Hermione whenever they wanted, while also allowing them complete mobility around Hogwarts castle, playing out the events of the book (with some added plot lines to extend the game further.)
A video game format is the exact opposite of the movie media format because unlike the movie, video games are meant to be interactive with the user and also take a significant time to complete. On average, video game campaigns take anywhere between 5-50+ hours to complete, so there is more availability for content then there would normally be for a movie. In this case, the game took about 10 hours to complete thus including extra content that wasn’t in either the book or the movie to compensate for the run-time. It is also worth mentioning that there isn’t a specific time in which the game ends, and it might take some players longer to complete than others depending on their play style/desire for 100% completion.
The game was rated E for everyone, therefore to young kids, and offered them a chance to actually put themselves in control of the characters, rather than being an observer of their actions like in reading a book or watching a movie. This adds a certain layer of immersion that a book or movie cannot replicate. Also, with the game being available on every platform of that era’s console generation (PS2, Xbox, Gamecube, PC) it made the game accessible to anyone with a game console. Lastly, the game appealed to video game fans who perhaps didn’t have any interest in reading the books and instead got hooked on the series in this way, thus drawing in more fans.
Another way the Harry Potter franchise has branched out towards other forms of media is through the website wizardingworld.com (formerly known as “Pottermore”) This site was created in 2012 a year after the final movies release.
The site adds another layer to the Harry Potter fan experience by allowing fans to create a free account, get sorted into their very own house based on a personality test, find out what their patronus is, take fun quizzes to test their Harry Potter knowledge, access featured stories by J.K Rowling about the different types of lore, creatures, wands, and much much more.
The website is a great use of digital technology, especially for this franchise, because it allows for fans to immerse themselves in content not available anywhere else, and it’s all free! This means that as long as you have a stable internet connection and a device to connect with, you can use it. This is a big deal as it allows access to a very large community of potter fans.
In addition, it is also nice that some of the content is curated by the author of the series herself, allowing for the most authentic experience possible. The site also helps the franchise stay popular and relevant updating content often. This is especially impressive considering the last book published in the series was 13 years ago!
I believe this site adds to the Harry Potter narrative because it incorporates every aspect of the franchise. The movies, books, video games, and everything included in them can be found here in addition to the sites own original content further adding to the franchise.
The website has the least amount of affordances, as it allows the content to be pretty flexible. There is everything on the site from VR experiences, 3D menus, quizzes, stories, videos, audio bites, to even a shop where you can purchase Harry Potter related merchandise. There really aren’t too many limitations that come with a website, and for a brand as big as Harry Potter is, they can pretty much add whatever they want to it, hence how it’s still going strong all these years later.
The last form of media the Harry Potter franchise has is their theme park rides in Universal Studios Florida, complete with perfect depictions of Diagon Alley and Hogsmede. Two rides in particular: “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey” and “Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts” are hybrid rides that combine regular elements of a theme park ride, and digital monitors to create the illusion of being immersed in both locations.
The theme park attractions are the most immersive fan experience possible as you can actually go and experience a wizarding world adventure first hand. Unfortunately, this is also the least accessible way to experience Harry Potter due to it being in Florida, it is very expensive to visit when factoring in ticket and travel costs. Far less convenient than logging onto the internet or popping a disc in.
In addition to the rides, the parks also have live shows, shops, and restaurants tailored to the Harry Potter experience, not to mention a real scale Hogwarts Express train that takes visitors from Hogsmeade to Diagon Alley and vice versa. The train is an exact replica of the ones filmed in the movies, down to the compartments, and uses screens embedded in the windows to create the illusion of traveling through the wizarding world with the train.
The limitation of the rides however, are that they don’t allow for any user input. You get strapped in and are along for the ride rather than contribute to the story in any way. An affordance of a roller coaster is immersiveness at the cost of zero mobility.
Overall, the Harry Potter franchise is one that transends many types of media formats including but not limited to: Books, Movies, Video Games, Websites, and Theme Park attractions. For a franchise whose last major installment came 13 years ago, it is incredibly impressive how Harry Potter has managed to stay relevant and find new ways to reach audiences. They are very good at branching out and dipping their toes in multi-modal forms of media to achieve this, which is the main factor in their success all these years later.