Harlequin finds a new way to court romance fans

The publisher continues to move past images of shirtless hunks by focusing on the intangible feelings its books give readers.

Romance publisher Harlequin is continuing to evolve beyond chiselled torsos and Tuscan villas, positioning its books as a source for “love, inspiration and happiness.”

With help from agency partner Round, the publisher is evolving what it means to have “That Harlequin Feeling,” which it first described at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Informed by research that Harlequin books leave readers with very strong, yet somewhat intangible, positive feelings, the new campaign employs animation to depict that range of emotion, from surprise to laughter to thoughtful consideration.

Mike Davidson, partner and managing director at Round, tells strategy the campaign is based on countering longstanding perceptions that Harlequins are not legitimate forms of literature and entertainment, part of its ongoing effort to reach younger readers increasingly receptive to the romance genre.

“We want to show the range of emotions women feel from Harlequin Books – it’s not one-dimensional,” Davidson says.

Harlequin recently embarked on a significant business reset and brand refresh to broaden its consumer base. As the world of publishing continues to change, Harlequin is recognizing the need to modernize its brand, reinvigorate its core book business and establish itself as a fan-based entertainment company. This means eventually continuing its expansion into live content, streaming services and other kinds of content beyond books – but all of which are still centred on romance.

The brand “definitely saw a jump” in interest as people were under lockdowns and considering different ways of entertaining themselves, Davidson says.

While the bulk of sales in publishing traditionally come between September and December, Harlequin operates a bit differently and is associated with summer escapism and holiday periods as well.

This refreshed version of that campaign is being launched this week in Canada and the U.S. across digital, social and programmatic media channels, with an OOH component targeting audiences in the Southern United States like Texas and California. Ad spend is in-line with previous efforts.

Polyester is the animation production partner.

According to BookNet Canada survey results of 12,000 English Canadian readers, as we emerge from the pandemic, readers are now specifically looking to buy more physical books from physical bookstores. And its insights reveal approximately eight in ten Canadians believe that it’s important for society to have physical bookstores for people to visit — 76% of all respondents and 79% of book buyers.