Harlequin forgoes shirtless hunks to broaden its audience

The romance publisher is looking to get past the cliches of genre to show the positive benefits of its expanding entertainment options.
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Romance book publisher Harlequin is looking to leverage the emotive elements of the brand to develop a platform for future growth in its “That Harlequin Feeling” national campaign.

Merjane Schoueri, VP of marketing at Harlequin, says there’s a lot more variety in romance novels than people typically assume. The themes and plot-lines can range from “hopeful fresh starts,” to “dramatic family sagas,” to “unexpected twists and turns,” and “always a happy ending for the characters,” she says. She adds that the two years of consumer research Harlequin conducted “reaffirmed” what the company has believed for 70 years: reading a Harlequin romance novel makes women feel those positive emotions.

“We want more people to know about the powerful emotional benefits that Harlequin novels provide readers by making them feel uplifted, inspired and empowered,” she says. “’That Harlequin Feeling’ sets the tone of how we’ll speak about the brand, the kind of partnerships we’ll engage in and new endeavors for the future.”

The video depicts a woman reading a Harlequin, whose surroundings then turn from bleak monotones to a vibrant palette. Schoueri says the brand is bringing the focus to the “positive benefits” because they can often be “overshadowed by negative stereotypes” associated with the romance genre as a whole. While Harlequin’s marketing has previously leaned into these cliches in a tongue-in-cheek way, taking a more positive approach will help reach segments it is currently not engaging.

Schoueri adds that this campaign was developed to connect with targeted consumer profiles. Mike Davidson, founding partner and managing director of Round, says that includes “Modest Moms” between the ages 25 and 40 who are more likely not to have read Harlequin before and “traditionalists,” between the ages of 40 and 65, who are more likely to be lapsed or occasional Harlequin readers.

Schoueri says the publisher is looking to expand into different areas of entertainment that “will continue to reinforce the positive feelings that our readers know and love us for.”

Round was selected as Harlequin’s agency in October to re-assess the company’s brand strategy and positioning as it looked to “reinvigorate its core book business” and reach a broader audience by extending into new forms of entertainment. Last June, Harlequin announced the launch of Harlequin Studios in an attempt to expand its content distribution, starting with more than 20 films on the CTV Drama Channel.

This new messaging will appear on all forms of communication, such as Harlequin ads, sales, its websites, publicity, in the brand’s books, movies and other new brand initiatives. Digital placements will cover digital and social media channels, mobile in-app and in-game advertising, email newsletter support and regional advertising. All communications of this campaign will direct individuals to Harlequin’s custom landing page, where consumers are able to watch the campaign video and download two free e-books.