Growing Up with Harry Potter

One of the basic tenets of generational marketing is that each generation is uniquely defined by the culture and events of their growing up years. My generation grew up in the golden age of dramatic TV series and sitcoms. We knew the prime time line ups and talked about them at school. We can still recite the Gilligan’s Island song at the drop of a hat. Farrah Fawcett’s passing was mourned by many women who aspired to be Jill on Charlie’s Angels.

For those coming of age in the 70’s and 80’s, Star Wars movies defined their childhood and teen entertainment. And for Millennials, Harry Potter perfectly spanned, and in many ways defines, their growing up years.

As this mega-media dynasty grinds to its conclusion next summer, it will mark the end of an era. A child born in 1987 was 11 when 11-year old Harry received his owl-post admission letter to Hogwarts, and will be 22 when the 17-year old Harry finally vanquishes Voldemort. Little wonder Millennials consider Harry Potter to be their own, despite its cross generational appeal. My daughter can’t remember a time when she wasn’t waiting for the next book or movie. She even dressed up for the midnight showing this week, much as she has for each event of the past 10 years.

There’s more to this than coincident timing. Harry was as much shaped by Millennials and their times as they were shaped by him. Just as J.K. Rowling set out to create an archetype of timeless values, set in a totally novel world, so too Millennials espouse what used to be universal values as their own: Multi-culturalism, heroicism, teamwork, learning, contributing to the greater good.

The simultaneous increase in Internet penetration made it easy for Harry Potter to transfer its fantasy world to the web and become one of the first truly multi-media franchises. No sooner did the book become a movie, than it also spawned video games, trivia games, Internet memes, mugglecasts, Harry Potter Puppet pals videos, music acts (Wrock) and more. As the first to ‘discover’ Harry Potter, Millennials feel a special affinity to the ‘boy who lived’. It provides a shared bond and culture. Just start chanting Snape, snape, severus snape – DUMBLEORE! in a college dorm and you may be surprised to see what happens. That puppet pals episode has over 65 million views on YouTube. Finally, Harry Potter is a global phenomenon; it was an experience shared by Millennials all over the world, and may even have contributed their remarkably similar values.

I’m not sure what the parallel would be for my generation, but I am quite sure that Gen Z will not have the same relationship with HP as my 15 and 18-year old Millennial kids. The question is, what will take its place?