Selling Casual Audiences
When devising its marketing campaign, WB can actually take a page out of the highly successful Star Wars: The Force Awakens playbook. While conjuring up old emotions was no doubt part of the trailers and TV spots, Lucasfilm did a great job of mixing the old with the new. The younger characters were placed front and center, showing that The Force Awakens was telling their story. Any involvement of returning classic trilogy protagonists was largely downplayed, which helped make The Force Awakens a great starting off point for newcomers to the series. The advertising materials illustrated why Star Wars 7 could stand on its own merits and be something anyone could enjoy.
That should be the game plan for Fantastic Beasts. Since WB is working with a big franchise, they would be wise to incorporate nostalgia, but dial it down to a reasonable level. The teaser trailer was an excellent start, briefly mentioning the Harry Potter connection before going off into its own thing. That'll be the key down the line. It's important for WB to ensure the new movie stands on its own merits without relying too heavily on the crutch of what's come before. Selling Fantastic Beasts as a fun fantasy adventure (that just happens to take place in the Potter universe) would be for the best, instead of hammering home the association. That way, audience expectations of what to expect could be managed; it's something new that is set in a familiar world.
Fantastic Beasts would also be helped immensely by positive word-of-mouth. Bourne Legacy's greatest downfall wasn't a lack of Jason Bourne, it was the mediocre reviews it received. That had a negative impact on the box office prospects, leading to the lowest returns the franchise saw. On paper, the idea was solid enough (following another operative from the CIA's advanced programs), but the execution was flawed. If Legacy had turned out to be a better film, things could have played out differently. Perhaps Renner's Cross is now established as the new series lead instead of being placed on the back burner while the old band gets back together. Maybe Cross and Damon team up to go on a mission together. For now, Cross didn't leave much of a legacy.
Fortunately, Fantastic Beasts appears to be in strong hands. It's directed by David Yates, who helmed the last four Potter films, all of which were well-received. He seems to know his way around this particular universe and has shown to have a good grasp on the material. In addition, none other than J.K. Rowling penned the screenplay. That's a huge factor and it bodes very well for the film's potential quality. As the creator of the wizarding world, Rowling would not come back to her beloved brand unless she felt it was a worthwhile addition to the canon. More than anyone else, she knows how much the Harry Potter franchise means to fans and doesn't want to disappoint them.
The trailer makes a point to mention Rowling's name, and you can bet that will continue as the year goes on. Highlighting the creative team (which moviegoers are familiar with) would be a great way of selling Fantastic Beasts to the casual crowd. Yates and Rowling (though, this is her first movie script) have generated goodwill with viewers thanks to their previous works. Playing up their involvement as marketing heats up could go a long way in increasing anticipation for Fantastic Beasts. The original Potter films, particularly the last one, are as popular now as they were when they were released. Knowing that the filmmaker behind Deathly Hallows is returning to tell a new story in the world is an exciting proposition, even without any recognizable characters.
Technically being positioned as a Harry Potter film, but without Harry Potter, puts Fantastic Beasts in a tricky spot, since some moviegoers may wonder why they should care about the project. There are plenty of blockbusters opening this year that have more recognizable elements, and Fantastic Beasts could slip past the radar if WB isn't careful with the way the studio promotes it down the line. Much like Avatar, Harry Potter is another huge film property that finds itself in a very different landscape compared to when audiences last saw it.
Luckily, the pieces are in place for Fantastic Beasts to be a strong hit. The announcement teaser was a good start, finding the right balance between franchise recognition and new elements. It's noteworthy that the preview did not mention Harry Potter's name (just "return to the wizarding world"). As long as the campaign focuses on making Fantastic Beasts its own thing, carried by the charms of Oscar-winner Eddie Redmayne, it should be in good shape. Even without any new books or films in the past handful of years, Harry Potter as a brand continues to resonate in pop culture, so WB knows interest has to be there.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them opens in U.S. theaters on November 18, 2016.