I saw The Dark Knight at the first IMAX midnight showing Thursday night.
In the long line of fans and fanboys, some dressed in Joker or Batman costumes, I kept thinking about the viral marketing and alternate reality game, or ARG, that has now come to an end, I assume, with the release of the movie. Depending upon who you ask, people either saw a lot of marketing for The Dark Knight or just a few commercials here and there. For those who were listening, there was plenty to hear.
I speculated awhile back that this campaign might be looking to blow the top off traditional marketing if Heath Ledger’s death turned out to be some kind of trickery. I wasn’t the only one who thought that either. Of course, faking Ledger’s death would have been an extremely controversial part of any marketing plan, but I think there would have been an insane amount of buzz surrounding the film if they had spun the gossip readers around in their chairs.
Unfortunately, Ledger’s death was not any sort of hoax, but the ARG and viral marketing done for The Dark Knight still represents some of the best outreach for the hardcore fan crowd that I have ever seen. By stringing together ARG events, several websites, outdoor signage and more traditional advertising, The Dark Knight‘s marketing gave fans just enough to stay hungry until the release of the film.
Chris Lee of the LA Times went over all the many facets of the campaign back in March. Rather than being one deep alternate reality game or one simple viral website to promote the film, The Dark Knight marketing team and 42 Entertainment provided several big reveals.
By using several websites to run numerous small ARG projects, the marketers kept fans pining for the movie’s release. I am convinced that someone involved with the marketing for The Dark Knight is an insider at GoDaddy just looking at the complete list of all the sites affiliated with the movie.
The campaigns started off pretty small. One of the most noteworthy early on was making a game out of revealing the first photo of Ledger’s Joker pixel by pixel. Fans had to translate puzzles in email messages which unlocked just a pixel of the image until the entire photo was revealed.
Staged events like the street side campaign stands for Harvey Dent seemed to almost go unnoticed, but those true fans that ran into them on the street or sought them out through IBelieveInHarveyDent.com got free Harvey Dent swag and a reminder of the film.
While it looked like a perfectly legitimate campaign site for the fictional Gotham District Attorney at first, IBelieveInHarveyDent.com was defaced — we must assume by the Joker — as the film’s release grew closer. Prior to the “vandalism,” The Community Guy praised it for staying in character.
To get the full story on the Dent campaign, you should also check out IBelieveInHarveyDentToo.com. Don’t ‘Select All’ in your browser, or you might discover something there as well.
The Joker set up shop at whysoserious.com to lead a scavenger hunt at San Diego’s Comic-Con and then provide the locations of bakeries around the United States where fans could receive a cake. Each cake was packed with an evidence bag containing a cell phone, phone charger, Joker gear and instructions to keep the phone on you at all times.
A similar piece of the ARG puzzle ran through the Clown Travel Agency, leading fans on another scavenger hunt for the Joker. In the end, a select group of fans who got there first received bowling ball bags containing a Joker-themed ball and a cell phone.
With all the various online and off-line marketing projects coming together, The Dark Knight had plenty of buzz opening weekend.
Early reports from E! Online are that The Dark Knight passed up Spider-Man 3 by grossing $155.3 million in its first weekend. The movie also set the records for opening day and single day.
While people all over the world may love their Batman, the success of The Dark Knight and especially this big opening weekend is a result of their innovative and consistent marketing. Even with the death of Heath Ledger endangering the project, the studio and 42 Entertainment put together enough rabbit holes to keep fans in the Batman universe and to keep the mainstream media reporting about their movie right up until the release date.
I know the ARG definitely pushed me to go see it early. I don’t normally rush out to see a movie the first weekend it comes out, but because of all the marketing and the IMAX showings, I jumped on board to get a ticket early.
How did the ARG and viral marketing influence you? Did you rush out to see the movie this weekend, or do you have no interest in it? Have you even ever heard of Batman? Continue the discussion by dropping a comment below.