Universal's impending PR problem with the Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Universal Orlando managers must be enjoying the avalanche of coverage that their webcast today
has generated for Islands of Adventure's upcoming Wizarding World of Harry Potter development.
But could that coverage be creating a PR problem for Universal?
Take a look at some of today's headlines:
These are among the biggest and most influential major media outlets in the country. And they all say the same thing: Not that Harry Potter will be a new land within Islands of Adventure. No, the headlines say that Harry Potter will be a new theme park.
And that could turn out to be a huge problem for Universal.
One bad scenario for Universal: Folks expecting an entirely new theme park will be confused when they get to the ticket booths or Universal website and don't find "the Harry Potter park" as one of their ticket options. They'll wonder that it is not open yet, or worry that they're being conned into buying a ticket for a park that they might not want in order to get into Harry Potter.
A slightly worse scenario: Even before getting to that ticket purchase, people will factor the cost of visiting an additional theme park into their planned Orlando vacation, and some might skip looking into a visit as a result, without knowing that Harry Potter is included in the cost of admission to IOA.
The worst case for Universal: People find the right ticket option, buy it and visit - only to discover that the "new theme park" is really just three rides (and only one of them new) and no shows. Expecting a full-fledged Harry Potter theme park, they get mad that they didn't find that and turn to e-mail, Twitter, Facebook, online message boards and all their friends to complain. Loudly.
Blame the company for its silly "theme park within a theme park" verbiage. Rather than just come out and say Harry Potter would be a new themed land, or "island" if you will, within Islands of Adventure, Universal has lost an opportunity to create needed brand recognition for IOA, while potentially leading many future visitors to expect something that Universal Orlando will not deliver - an entire theme park devoted to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Universal needs to spend the months between now and next spring clarifying this Wizarding World, heavily promoting it as a land within IOA: "Want to see the 'Wizarding World of Harry Potter'? It's only in Universal's Islands of Adventure!" etc. The news media coverage, as shown by the headlines today, is moving in a direction that Universal shouldn't want; Universal needs to hit hard with advertising, online and on air, in order to better manage public expectations for the new land.
This doesn't mean that Universal has to play down WWOHP. This looks like it will be one of the most impressive new projects within a theme park in years. But it will be a project within an existing theme park, and Universal's looking at a PR nightmare if the public fails to comprehend that.
To answer your direct question, I came to your site after reading all the other press. It wasn't confusing AT ALL in the reading. The narrative is very clear it's inside of Universal's Island of Adventures. I think your press analysis is a bit over the top.
If I had one reservation about the Wizarding World of Harry Potter area it was that there was a potential for it to overshadow, media wise, the rest of IOA.
With all due respect to Mr. Niles, I don't think this will have much of an impact. And if it does it will be short term -- especially if 'HPATFJ' is a spectatcular addition to the Universal Orlando resort. Judging on Unoversal Creative's extraordinary work in the past they should not be a problem.
Visitors "not-in-the-know" will be pleasantly surprised at what they find when they visit IOA.
I really don't think that Universal would intentionally leave out the fact that Harry Potter is opening within IOA. Perhaps they understated it a little, but they didn't misrepresent like these stories have. I don't particularly fault Universal so much as I fault half-arsed journalism and failure to research and be clear on the simplest, yet very important details. The reason I say that is because all of the industry and fan websites had (and have had for weeks) it right. Why? because they care about the industry. Journalists for mainstream media outlets...if you can call some of them that anymore, should care at least for the sake of being accurate and informative. Taking 5 minutes to google this topic before writing, editing, printing, or reposting via AP, would have made the missed detail crystal clear.
I agree with Robert on the point of guest confusion. Believe me, you really have to spell things out to some people when it comes to their vacations (esp. theme parks). People do become dumber when they're on vacation or even while planning one. While working at Epcot, i couldn't tell you how many guests came up to me asking where Disney World is. Of course the CM's were taught that the guests meant Magic Kingdom. I read a few comment boards and the majority of people are saying that they are excited for the Harry Potter THEME PARK. The press releases really don't say anything about it being a land within IOA. They all say theme park within a theme park. For a while even I thought that it was going to be a separate gate. I can see this becoming a problem if Universal does not spell out exactly what some call Potter Land really is.
No offense Robert, but I pretty much disagree with your analysis of the PR for HP. Recently, especially now that we have the ability to discuss theme parks extensively in forums, blogs, and other online groups, a major misconception has been brewing. It is easy to dismiss Universal's new attraction as something less than it is. "It only has three rides, only one of them new." has been bantered around on the internet since yesterday afternoon. Rides and shows are important, yes. But Universal has only begun to unveil the shops and overall themeing of the area. People who are excited about HP are for the most part excited about stepping into the world that they've read in the books (or seen in the films). They want to "be" a witch or wizard for a few moments. Live in the shadow of Hogwarts. Leave the real world behind. That's what Universal is building. That IS what a theme park does, and why "theme park within a theme park" is NOT misleading. People for the most part understand that. The press isn't confusing the issue. They're pretty clear about where the area is being built. And there's plenty of room for future expansion too. Leaving room for more later is good forward-thinking strategy.
I myself wonder if there will be web backlash against HarryPotterland solely based on the two rethemed rides, one new ride, an zero shows. Doesn't really excite me to go see what is essentially only one new ride...
I agree a little bit with what you say Robert, but I do not think its such a huge problem.
My Spider-Sense is tingling. I think a miserable experience is on the horizon for the hundreds of thousands who will flock to IOA only for the WWOHP next year. Parents are going to first be routed through a number of shops, that while well themed, will make their kids want to buy overpriced wands, collectibles and candy. Dad better double up on the ButterBeer at this point. The re-themed Flying Unicorn will now attract a lot more guests, but will still have a very low put-through for a 30 second kiddie coaster. Imagine waiting 2 hours for that! I'm sure the wait line for the Dueling Dragons inside the castle will be really cool now, and it better be. You'll be in there a long time. And then there will be only ONE NEW RIDE for anyone who has never been to IOA before. It will be amazing, but you'll have to wait at least 3 to 4 hours for one ride in the first couple of years, so forget "Let's do that again!" It's a one time deal. Hopefully, they'll have a no-wait return time program so you'll have more time to spend money in the shops. Yikes!
Also, I wonder if Universal will still allow guests staying at one of their hotels to skip lines at the WWOHP with their room key? If they do, I predict solidly booked hotels and standard lines that barely move at all.
Allow me to clarify: I'm not talking about the millions of people who read websites like ThemeParkInsider.com or otherwise research deeply their Orlando vacations. Those folks know what WWOHP is, are psyched for it and, I expect, will be wowed.
As a new transplant to Orlando, I cannot believe how many of my well-educated friends don't realize that Universal and Disney are separate ENTITIES when they mention visiting me. Let alone trying to explain the separation of the parks within each franchise. They seem to think the "Park Hopper" tickets mean "Orlando Attraction Hopper" (which also magically includes Busch Gardens in Tampa).
Robert's assesment of some of the guests to the Orlando theme parks is spot on. Its really turned into a game with my family to see what crazy thing we can see or hear on our annual trip to Disney World. I am going to the Food and Wine Festival so who knows what drunken guest interaction I will see.....
Those families, the uneducated masses, will be clueless with or without PR help from the parks. Marketing and information have always been somewhat mutually exclusive. In order to build excitement and buzz, you have to show your best attractions. Doing so presents a park with only those attractions, all neatly lined up in a row for guests to visit. The reality is those rides are sometimes whole parks apart. Marketing shows families jumping right on the rides. You wouldn't sell visits to the park if you depicted guests waiting in an hour long line to ride. Parks use marketing slogans like "be a princess" or "own the park" and we all know those aren't really true. They're marketing tools to create excitement. Calling WWHP "a theme park within a theme park" is the same thing. It builds buzz, and creates excitement. Will some of our less educated guests be disapointed that it's not really a whole theme park? Maybe. Those same guests are also disappointed that Spiderman isn't right next to the Simpsons ride, and that the park isn't included in their Disney pass. The goal has to be to create buzz for everyone, and create an experience varied and enjoyable enough to keep a majority of the guests, whether educated or not, happy. Can they please everyone? No, nor should they try. That's setting them up for failure. Can they create a highly themed, interactive experience with something for most people to enjoy? Yes, I think they can and if their advance preview is accurate that's exactly what they are doing. Expectations are high for this project, and meeting or exceeding those expectations will be difficult just simply because the audience expects so much. It's unreasonable to hold them to an experience that satisfies 100% of the people 100%.
I am surprised how much media this is actually getting. They had a segment on a national radio station(KISS FM) this morning about it, right when I was going to school. They were making it seem like Dueling Dragons was new, and not just getting renovated to be themed to Harry Potter. That may also be confusing to people is if they have visited IOA before, and are now expecting a new coaster at WWOHP only to find Dueling Dragons that they rode a couple years back.
Mr. Niles, I think you misread the newspaper articles.
Robert, I heard you this morning on NPR's Morning Edition- you sounded great!
One comment really got my eye: "...I predict solidly booked [on-site] hotels and standard lines that barely move at all."
I think a lot of folks might be surprised by news industry eyetracking data that shows just how few people read the articles beyond the headlines (and, maybe, the lead).
I think this is a bit of over-analysis. Most guests going to Orlando don't know the difference between the four Disney parks until they show up. If you've ever watch the Disney World trip planning DVD, they're constantly emphasizing that Disney World is much more than the Magic Kingdom. Average guests going to IOA for the first time, will just want to know where Harry Potter is, and once they find it, they'll be more than satisfied.
I just think it's funny that this is getting so much attention now when the project was announced over two years ago especially since this announcement wasn't even that significant or say much of anything new.
I agree that there will be a problem with people understanding that it is only a section of an entire themepark. I was reading an article about it on another site and they called it a theme park in the title and the article. The reason I think people will be confused is because of some of the comments with people saying that with only three rides it wouldn't be worth it going to this theme park as they need more rides. The general public doesn't do the research and will be confused about it.
I think the problem here is not Universal's fault. These major media outlets either didn't do their research or wanted a more sensationalized headline by calling it a theme park and not just a land.
Of course, the real lesson here is to quit reading newspapers and watching TV for your theme park-related news, and to start reading TPI daily.... ;-)
You would be surprised just how many guests come to Universal Orlando and have no idea what Islands of Adventure is or that it even exists. They just know they are coming to Universal Studios. Many are angry when they find out they are prevented from visiting Spiderman or Jurassic Park without buying a separate ticket. Same goes for Disney. Many tourists just do not realize that there are separate parks. And don't get me started on people asking where an attraction is at Universal, yet they are asking for a Disney attraction.
I think the headlines are very misleading in calling the new land a theme park, and that is what most people read in this faster paced age of electronic info.
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