The new Harry Potter book comes out this month, and is being launched with a multimillion-dollar promotional campaign:

Billboards. Baseball parks. A countdown in Times Square. Scholastic, Inc., the U.S. publisher of J.K. Rowling (news – web sites)’s mega-selling children’s series, has planned a $3 million-$4 million marketing campaign, more than doubling its budget for the release of the last Potter book, “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” in 2000.

“I can’t think of anything that compares to the budget for the new Harry Potter book, except for the budget for the last Potter story,” says Laurie Brown, a vice president for sales at Harcourt Trade Publishers.

Don’t get me wrong, I like the Harry Potter books. I think they’re interesting and creative, especially for kids’ books, even if they do have a few plot holes and whatnot.

But they became so popular in the first place based on word of mouth generated by kids who fell in love with them. The first book didn’t need a $4-million dollar ad campaign to become popular. It caught on because it was good.

A lot of people have been using the word “classic” to describe the Harry Potter series, putting it in a league with the Narnia Chronicles and the Lord of the Rings series. Only time will tell if the books achieve “classic” status, but it makes me wonder whether C.S. Lewis or J.R.R. Tolkien could have continued to produce high-quality books under the kind of media spotlight that is focused on J.K. Rowling. I know it sounds strange coming from me, given that I work in advertising, but I guess I still hang onto this idealistic notion that a true classic shouldn’t need millions of dollars worth of advertising hype.

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