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Why The Dark Knight's Viral Marketing is Absolutely Brilliant

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March 28, 2008

Why The Dark Knight's Viral Marketing is Absolutely Brilliant

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.

Gotham Cab

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.

Joker Protesters

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?

Take Back Gotham City Button

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).

I Believe in Harvey Dent

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.

The Dark Knight

Header rally photo courtesy of placenamehere on Flickr.

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  • Very good article Alex and I am a HUGE Batman fan, fav. superhero :). But I must say that while the fans are getting a treat, I DO think that it is ineffective. Most people don't know who Harvey Dent is and at the Philly one I went to most took a glance, said what is this, and walked right on by. I really don't think there is much of a connection between the film and this campaign for non-fans. I mean, say if it was Two-Face, The Joker or a villian up there, a lot more people would understand the reference, or even if on the back of the shirts there is a release date for the Dark Knight, or some mention of it I would say its effective, but there isn't. For me this is a thrill but most people just don't get the reference and with the trailer last being attached to, to my belief I AM LEGEND and FUNNY GAMES, I am willing to bet that most people outside of the film industry forgot about it. This marketing is appealing to fans and while I believe WE should have this, WE are already highly aware of it and will already to pay and see this. What they need to do is hand out things that say THE DARK KNIGHT on them instead of Harvey Dent, and I am sure most would enjoy that too.
  • Minor point: there's no way in hell the edgy DK's gonna beat family-friendly Wall-E at the box office.
  • harrison
    its great fun and all but do they really need it though? cloverfields marketing was great because it got the attention of thousands of people who probably wouldnt have seen it, batmans a given like indiana jones, people will turn out in droves if you just put up a couple posters of batman and the joker
  • I'm sorry, but it makes me sick to see people expending this much energy on a f_cking marketing campaign for a Batman movie. I think the movie looks cool, but this hype machine makes me want to puke.
  • Not to mention, viral marketing was meant to level the playing field for productions with smaller ad budgets. This is a bastardization of the whole idea.
  • Neo
    Of course the media is going to cover such things. It's news. That's what they do. Does that mean that a marketing campaign is being effective though? Don't confuse publicity with marketing. They are different things.
    • the.names.lisa
      yeah they may not be the same but if the film is getting a lot of publicity, then don't you that will get comsumers aware of the film, maybe even getting them hooked into watching the film when it had come out.... which then proves that it has marketed.
  • bltzie
    I think it's effective to an extent. In my case I printed several bumber stickers, one for my car and others to give away randomly to some to friends which now have the bumper stickers in their cars (they had no idea who was harvey dent and had vaguely heard about the dark knight or can hardly be called batman "fans", but now are quite excited about the movie) and other bumper stickers I gave away in a mall, and to my surprise a few days back I saw a car with one of my bumper stickers on it! keep in mind I live in Santo Domingo, this is the caribbean. So I believe this viral marketing is kinda waking awareness, maybe like a poster of the movie would. Only this time we have it on cars, on rallys, on home windows and all that. I understand that not many people know who harvey dent is, or that there's no name of the movie or release date attached to his campaign. But I for once, If i start looking things at the streets, something that might catch my interest (and this campaign should catch the interest of americans, since is election year) I google it!! Those are just my thoughts, like Alex...I'm no expert
  • Hi Alex, I am a marketing/PR professional and I will say you are spot-on in your arguments. Here's why I love the campaign: 1. Unlike other viral campaigns, this one is pure participation. You have to want to be a part of it to even know about it. This is brilliant because it eliminates over-hype problems. When a viral campaign is all-inclusive, audiences can get sick of the movie before it even hits theaters. Here, super fans get to play with their favorite superheroes and villains and the rest of the public is unaware. 2. As you pointed out: media coverage. The best campaigns are the kind that not only engage your audience with your brand but also get media attention. This is why everyone talks about the lines between PR and marketing blurring so much! One feeds the other which feeds the other one and so on! I've blogged about the campaign at (www.speakmediablog.com), you're talking about it here. The NYT just ran a big piece on it. CNN is in on it now. Smart marketing campaigns create PR buzz. So, you have a second career as a marcom professional, my friend! Well done. Jennifer of http://www.speakmediablog.com
  • Neo
    OK. Just to get things straight. I don't think being covered by the media means an effective marketing campaign by itself (to clarify a little bit my previous entry). The media can cover your story, film or whatever, but you have no control on the angle they are going to be showing it to the public and many, many other things (unless you own the media or have extremely high influences). A marketing campaign does have that control. Being covered by the media is, basically, publicity, not marketing. On the other hand, I think we're just looking at marketing only through the lens of awareness. Of course marketing, in some way or another, creates awareness, but marketers don't think: "Oh, we're creating awareness, we're being successful at doing our job". I don't think so. That is such a simplistic and unrealistic way of looking at marketing. Awareness is a mean, not an end.
  • I think viral marketing can be effective, but marketing team being The Dark Knight has been doing too much of it for too long. One or two campaigns are fun for fans, but it seems like they've been doing dozens of different campaigns for at least 18 months now. Give it a rest!
  • I read a statistic in National Geographic once that said 67% of all PR professionals were infected with two or more sexually transmitted diseases.
  • Dusty
    Great points Jennifer#8... but ... who is it engaging that are not already fans? Just as you said, "Here, super fans get to play with their favorite superheroes and villains and the rest of the public is unaware." So who is it drawing? It is more of a customer care/retention campaign than anything. Viral Marketing is a campaign that builds upon itself by engaged users involving other NON-ENGAGED users. Participatory Marketing(as the TDK campaign is) is not Viral. (in support of your comment #1 Jennifer) I am proud to see them breaking into new mediums with the cakes, van and other interesting aspects. But, (my belief) is it is simply not engaging people that are not already familiar with Dent, Nigma, or the clown(reminds me of ICP everytime I see a pic of them) AND ALREADY GOING TO THE MOVIE. Alex, Your quote illustrates exactly my point::: "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." Key point here is "FANS". Yes this flick is gonna do amazing, but I CAN'T believe that it is because of an underlying viral campaign, instead just a traveling participatory marketing story furthing the interest of FANS. Viral was Blair Witch, passing a story from one to another that people could believe and relate to, not just pretending to be participating in the politics of a fake city. Again just my thoughts, as a Marketing / PR professional as well. oh and Lance#4, #5, #11... I normally enjoy your comments... but this time I was going to flame your posts like you did on Jennifer.. but chose to leave it alone... some folks just have to be an @ss I guess.
  • Yup, it's kind of what I do.
  • Nick
    As you said with Firefly, the same has also happened with Family Guy and Futurama. Futurama went off the air, came back, went back off and now their making 4 movies based off the series(although the first one was pretty disappointing). Family Guy also came back after being taken off the air because the fans rallied in support of it. As for the viral campaign, I already knew I was gonna go see this movie at the end of my first viewing of Batman Begins 😛 I still think it's brilliant and it's just added more and more excitement to finally see this movie once it comes out.
  • #6 - Okay, I just need to clarify... Yes I know publicity and marketing are different, however, if this sort of viral campaign nurtures media coverage, than that helps it in the end - no matter if it was due in part to publicity or the marketing. Case in point - media coverage is very important, studios are ALWAYS looking for it. And so that's a valid point because the more it gets in areas like this, the more chance it has to continue spreading.
  • Neo
    #15 I absolutely agree, it helps. I just wanted to bring that point to the table (specifically regarding media coverage).
  • Dusty
    haha.. I know Lance.. that is why I had to give you a hard time.. hahaha..
  • craziemutant
    what's wrong with a studio using money to give fans something cool to be a part of? i mean, who do you think the movie's for? it's for the fans. and if they have the money, why not give fans more? it's all for the fans and if it draws in non-fans, it's a bonus. more money for the next one. besides, what would you have them use the money on? they already used all the money they needed for the movie. what? have them give back the money cause they didn't use it up? they're using it now, to make the movie a much better experince for the fans. btw, word of the post was "fans". haha.
  • On a serious note though, people spending this much money to be out in support of a movie that hasn't even come out yet does really bug me. From the studio's point of view, I get it - they have money to spend and this is a good way to do it. But as far as the actual the people on the ground dressing up and yelling into bullhorns and stuff... seriously? This is all you have to do? Can't we go work in a soup kitchen or help out at the old folk's home or something? That's my main issue with it.
  • jason_md2020
    Would the Harvey Dent viral marketing work as well if this wasn't an election year? Just wondering...
  • harrison
    i think i might write in harvey dent for president, i think everyone should
  • Gdn | TD
    @ 19 - If u wanna help the community, it doesn't mean that u can't spend time on anythin else. I mean, u can go help instead sittin at home watchin TV, or instead of browsing this site & adding comments or instead of spending a lazy day at home chatting with ur friend. So, its not practical to mix community service with somethin we do for fun or some change(distraction from daily life). And about money, u can spend as much as u can spare.. :p
  • craziemutant
    haha. the comment about us spending money on the virals. i've spend quite a bit and i came in late. i'd probably have used two paychecks by now if i was with it from the beginning. haha. but i don't regret it. i actually wish i had known about it earlier so i could actually spend money on it. i regret not digging into the movie more when i first heard about it.
  • I don't think Harvey is a trustable person, I will go for Dana http://www.danaworthington.com/
  • craziemutant
    haha. what about Roger Garcetti? i'm sure he needs some supporters as well. http://www.trustgarcetti.com/
  • Thanks for this. My very first blog post EVER was devoted to this very subject and I hope to be able to use this piece as a spring board for a follow up. I LOVE ALL THINGS BATMAN. ANd I'm a PR major at the University of Oregon. This MADE MY DAY.
  • Ben
    Here's the last piece of the Batman viral puzzle…and this one is by far the coolest! Go to http://www.FightForGothamCity.com and click on the Arkham Asylum button. Click on "Commit a Friend" and you'll get to upload a friend's photo and have them committed to Batman's Arkhum Asylum. It really looks like you're an inmate in the video! I posted my video to my Facebook… Here's a direct link - http://solutions.vzwshop.com/nokia/cyf/default.html
  • I can't believe this campagin actually worked, but credit where it's due - they've put the effort in and it's really paid off.
  • That's campaign, obviously.
  • Dean
    This is not viral marketing. DARK KNIGHT, itself was/is a "Campaign" serving a far higher purpose then merely inspiring fans. It is a modern day form of mass CATHARSIS , in action. It is in many ways primitive and ritualistic and has been occurring through cultures dating as far back as Rome. This whole process was to uplift the mood of New York City, preform a purification and to restore hope, least to those of a age susceptible to suggestion and fantasy. To achieve this the Art's blur's the distinction between harsh reality and fantasy. It is perfectly well meaning, but you must understand the process of the Art's and it's relation, moral obligation and purpose too the surrounding cultural climate & society. It is the Art's gift to Society. It will continue to expand, as it benefits both the culture and the Art's itself. Regards, d.t.kelly Australia
  • Brittney
    ...a retrospective HAHA to #2's "Minor point: there's no way in hell the edgy DK's gonna beat family-friendly Wall-E at the box office."
  • Donnel
    Haha retards, am reading some of these comments HA Dark Knight is the 2nd highest grossing movie in history and named number 15 in Forbes 500 greatest movie of all time
  • I am doing a research on viral marketing for my master. The purpose of this study is to analyze three successful viral marketing campaigns. If you want to participate, please click this link: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s.aspx?sm=kir1HOU0ur4YjWIbqTy1QQ_3d_3d Thankyou
  • Arrrhhh... viral marketing... my favourite subject!
  • I just thought I would ask why the “alt” tag for image submissions here on Mixx displays a guid. Why doesn’t it display the title of the submission instead?
  • It is in many ways primitive and ritualistic and has been occurring through cultures dating as far back as Rome.
  • BS
    This is a really great article! Thanks.

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