Why The Dark Knight's Viral Marketing is Absolutely Brilliant
by Alex Billington
March 28, 2008
A few days ago as I was writing our latest update on The Dark Knight's ever-growing viral campaign, I got in a fight with a good friend about viral marketing in general. He believes that viral marketing on the whole is an entirely ineffective waste of money. I disagree, claiming that when used properly, viral marketing does work to expand awareness. Just look at Cloverfield - it had as big of an opening weekend as it did thanks to viral marketing. However, all of my passion at the moment is devoted towards The Dark Knight, a movie that I not only believe will make the most money out of any this year and is one that I'm looking forward to more than anything, but is a movie that I believe has executed one of the greatest viral marketing campaigns ever in marketing history.
I will admit that I am not a marketing professional nor do I consider myself to be the utmost authority on marketing, however that doesn't mean I still can't have an educated opinion. After observing this campaign for 8 months, both from the sidelines and in the thick of it, I've come to believe that it is both brilliant and effective. With the Joker focus all last year and the new Harvey Dent focus this year, there's a lot going for it. Let's take a look at the reasons why this viral campaign is brilliant.
It is allowing fans to become even more passionate and it's empowering them - pretty much as actual citizens of an entire working fake city. There are real websites for everything from the cab company to churches to TV stations to the subway in Gotham City. There's even a working newspaper that prints four pages of fake stories. It is essentially an "alternate reality game", but I still prefer the term viral marketing. It gives the fans something to embrace and love and even boast to their friends about. The entire idea of movies and video games is to be taken into a reality that isn't like our own. Here the viral marketing embraces the new medium of the internet and cultivates that idea further. It allows those fans to believe in a real Gotham City, right down to electing city officials.
It is dividing fans into three separate groups: Joker supporters, Harvey Dent supporters, Bruce Wayne / Batman supporters. Why is this good? Well, honestly, I wish I had a sociology expert to back me up, but the more passionate you become fighting for a specific group (against others), the more chance it has to spread. As in, when you have the urge to get up and support an idea against another idea (for example, religion, among other worldly ideas), then you really go all out. If there's only one thing to support, no one cares that much. Why do you think arguments about one movie versus another are always more heated than ones where someone is trying to explain why the movie is good on its own. Why do you think there even are religious wars to begin with?
It is introducing the movie to a demographic that would have otherwise not had an interest. Countless people thought it was "stupid" to rally for the fictional character Harvey Dent in public places when everyone who would walk by would always ask, "Who is Harvey Dent?" That's enough right there to prove my point. The fact that someone who doesn't know who Harvey Dent is now has this guy's name in their mind means they've been introduced to this movie when they probably would have otherwise not at all thought about it until July. Everyone who is into movies knows about The Dark Knight already, but this is for those who are not into movies. And if they don't immediately remember the name and check up on it the moment they get to a computer, there are still 4 more months for the campaign to build and they'll eventually be reminded again one day when its important (nearer the release date).
Radical marketing ideas that are both new and successful earn the attention of the media and industry experts. This viral campaign not only goes above beyond anything we've ever seen previously, but it is a vast campaign that will have run for nearly a year by the time the film hits theaters. If it continues to be successful and embraced by the fans and if The Dark Knight ends up breaking box office records, both the media and industry experts will look back on this as an example of viral marketing at its best. In fact, the media is already covering it! The fact that I'm writing about this is proof alone that it's exciting and interesting enough to gain the attention of the media. And many local TV stations already covered the Harvey Dent rallies - one example is shown here.
One of the biggest arguments I've heard against the effectiveness of viral marketing is the claim that all that it does is get the fans alone more excited. And that there is no point to spending more on fans who would are already planning to spend their money and see the movie. Whoa - have they never heard of social networking and "fanboyism" at all? It's common knowledge that the more fans--and the more passionate these fans--are, the more that media will spread. Why did Universal end up making Serenity two years after the show had ended? Because all of the Firefly fans were passionate enough to show them that it could turn into a success. And I first heard about Serenity from a friend who was a fan and now I'm a fan, too.
I don't think I need to explain or provide any more proof to the fact that the more fans are empowered and the more fans that are gained not only doesn't hurt the movie, but instead helps awareness spread even further. Passion is one of the most powerful emotions on this planet, and fans are full of it! Especially when you're giving these fans a chance to step out in public and rally for Harvey Dent (or the Joker) and become a part of this fantasy universe (where Gotham City is located).
For those who still don't believe in the brilliance of viral marketing, only time will prove its effectiveness. And I'll gladly be revisiting this article and my opinion on July 18th, when theaters around the world are packed full of fans and non-fans alike - when The Dark Knight shatters all box office records and proves that this campaign was more than effective. As we wait for that day to arrive, we can look forward to the next few final phases of this marketing campaign. I know I'm looking forward to the many more radical ideas that they have waiting up their sleeves and for more opportunities to grin at their brilliance.
Header rally photo courtesy of placenamehere on Flickr.