The Rise of the Franchise: Harry Potter vs. Starbucks

On page 37 of Media Franchising: Creative Licensing and Collaboration in the Culture Industries, Derek Johnson explains the cultural definition of franchising by referencing entrepreneurial writer Harry Kursh by saying:

“Although not couched in such theoretical language, Kursh’s argument portrays franchising as a meaningful discourse that unites diverse practices and as a recognizable cultural unity.”

I believe this applies to two major franchises of separate genre: The Harry Potter universe (literary) and the cult that is Starbucks Coffee (culinary).Johnson goes on to say that Kursh’s belief was that the “key to a successful franchise is continuing relations” (37). Though this was intended to be interpreted in the context of franchiser-franchisee relationships, I believe that it’s a mentality relevant to the spread of non-identical versions of a franchise. Harry Potter and Starbucks have created an entire culture surrounding their products based on their “continuing relations” with their audience; in fact, Harry Potter fans have grown up recognizing the series as a significant influence on their childhood – something they’ll always find valuable and emotionally relevant.

Though only a few HP books were available at the time the first film was released, the Harry Potter Franchise took only a couple of years to expand. Currently, there’s clothing (of the costume and everyday variety including house robes, wands, ties, Weasley sweaters, etc.), EA games created video games, Jelly Belly started selling Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans, and Universal Studios literally created a Harry Potter world for fans to immerse themselves in and dream of Hogwarts. And remember Potter Puppet Pals? Quality animation. JK Rowling’s announcement two weeks ago that Hermione should’ve ended up with protagonist Harry caused a nostalgic uproar heard all over the world via Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, etc. It was an international news craze years after the final film installment. And if there was any doubt about the humanitarian effect of such a movement,  it was completely depleted after reading about “phenomena like ‘The Harry Potter Alliance,’ where the affective bonds of participatory fandom support organization and collective actions against injustices such as genocide in Darfur” (199). Try not to feel united and deeply upset that it’s over by the video below…however, do NOT watch the whole thing since it’s almost 18 minutes.

Warner Bros–the parent company of our beloved wizarding world and subsidiary of Time Warner, inc.–is no stranger to the franchising process. Their constant rehearsal of the process, from Batman to Gossip Girl, makes them an unstoppable, transformative force (even today, the Twitter-sphere is peppered with exclamation points and #blairwaldorf hashtags as the former Queen B secretly married actor Adam Brody.) Whether it be via intra-industrial or inter-industrial advertising, Time Warner has chiseled its process to perfection into a money-making powerhouse that influences childhood superheros, empowers women executive and feminist niche audience (or simply female niche audiences, depending on your perspective), and builds franchises that, “embody the wide cultural reach of of contemporary corporate institutions” (67).

Courtesy of foodswallpaper.com

Courtesy of foodswallpaper.com

Similarly, Starbucks has made a fortune appealing to fundamental human emotions: aspiration, hunger, and joy. What started as a Seattle coffee shop and distributor has ballooned into an international conglomerate in 62 countries. They market food, drinks, CDs, films, and many locations are offering occasional concerts and late night functions. They even have their own record label! And as Starbucks success has grown, so has its marketing strategy. Now, Starbucks is more than a cup of coffee — it’s a lifestyle. 

Look at the advertisement above and think about why it’s powerful. It’s not just about getting coffee on your way to work anymore; it’s about getting the best coffee…in the most universally-recognized cup…to make you and your day the best. And if you’re not drinking Starbucks, you’re doing yourself a disservice by removing the potential to be the best. Their Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are 100 percent filled with suggestions about what Starbucks should mean to consumers across the board. It looks like perfection – cozy, quirky, and never less than beautiful – and I would know…I’m a Gold Card holder. By branding Starbucks this way (you can listen to the best music, drink the best coffee, sit in the comfiest chairs, and experience the best day), it has effectively created an ideal lifestyle that you can achieve should you choose to participate in its (cult-ish) following. The Starbucks/Dunkin’ Donuts divide is even being compared to the Red Sox/Yankee rivalry of the East Coast. By spreading its influence into as many lifestyle aspects of possible, Starbucks has expanded its audience and recommitted its consumers to an ideal image of the world’s greatest cup of coffee. (Unless you work for SNL, in which case you release this questionably racist sketch…)

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Comments

  1. Since I know it’s an interest of yours, you may want to think about the way the Starbucks ad you include in your post reflects some of the neoliberalist principles we discussed in conjunction with Holt’s Empires of Entertainment.

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