Will the Hulk stomp all over Potter?

It's a battle of the merchandising giants.
Tomorrow, two titans will officially face off in a marketing melee of unprecedented proportions. While Hulk the movie (in wide release tomorrow) and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (available to a frenzied reading public tomorrow at the stroke of midnight) are competing in different media, the accompanying competition between tie-in merchandise ranging from Hulk Freezer Bags to Harry Potter Uno will be a true battle of the brands, pitting Stan Lee's green behemoth against J.K. Rowling's young wizard.

Rob Frankel, a branding expert based in Los Angeles, says while Harry Potter has probably made more money through books, movies and licensing, the Hulk has managed to survive as a powerhouse brand despite being out of the spotlight since the television show went off the air 20 years ago.

"On a true brand basis, I would say that the Hulk is probably stronger because it's coming out of obscurity, whereas Harry Potter has been pretty high-profile for four or five years," Frankel said in a telephone interview yesterday.

Frankel says the return of the Hulk is just part of an emerging trend of old and dead brands being revived. "It started maybe five, 10 years ago when cheap PCs came along and somebody snapped up the Packard Bell brand and put it on a PC. They felt that the brand was more enticing to an older generation -- and it worked," he said.

The very fact that the Hulk is being used to sell everything from Dodge Caravans to luggage bags to Jell-O pudding shows that the green monster can use his incredible strength to move product of all kinds. "Older brands have much more staying power than a lot of the newer ones," Frankel said.

Meanwhile, the long-anticipated Potter release has given the book world a big head start. Chapters and Indigo are selling Harry Potter DVDs alongside the books, as well as Bernie Bott's Every Flavor Beans (featuring such flavours as Vomit, Dirt, Ear Wax and Booger). Some of the chain's stores in Ontario and Alberta are also holding launch events on Friday night at 10:30, featuring photos with Harry Potter and live mad science experiments.

Even smaller stores like Squibb's Stationers in Toronto's Weston village are jumping into the fray. In addition to 120 copies of the new book, Squibb's is selling bookmarks, bookends, figurines, cookie jars, mugs, colouring books and journals. The small bookstore is also planning a Potter extravaganza at the Weston Family Market for Saturday morning.

"People are getting very, very excited," said Suri Weinberg-Linsky, the store's owner, who is still trying to decide what cape to wear on Saturday. "I've had people on my order list for two years."

The real battle of the brands will take place in the aisles of toy stores. At the Toys "R" Us at Yonge and Eglinton in Toronto, where you can pre-order the latest Potter book for a deposit of $5, a Harry Potter display will be unveiled on Saturday, across from the one currently stocked with Hulk Action Figures, Hulk Hands and Hulk Jelly Pops.

Emily Doehler-Knox, a sales associate there, says the Hulk toys have been proving very popular, especially among boys, and she expects them to continue outselling Potter merchandise. "Hulk merchandise is more 'Rarrghh!' and 'I'm a strong man,' " she said.

Frankel, however, suspects that Hulk, though it purports to be aimed at kids, is really going to cash in with their parents. "The big money for the Hulk will come from Baby boomers, not from kids," said Frankel.
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