The campaign for The Dark Knight, the second movie in the newest iteration of the Batman franchise, has a tough act to follow. As I’ve stated time and time again, the push for Batman Begins in 2005 is one of my favorite campaigns I’ve ever analyzed in my time in seriously reviewing movie marketing efforts. That’s because, as you likely know, it is so amazingly consistent from one component to the next. From the posters to the trailers to the website, everything about the campaign was done in that same sepia-toned style, with Batman looming large and mysterious in the center of the action. It created a singular public face which was reinforced time and again in the audience’s mind and created a strong brand identity in every sense of the phrase.
For that and other reasons (I’m a long time fan of the (good) Batman films, this one was shot in Chicago, including my building, etc) The Dark Knight has been something I’ve been looking forward to for quite a while and which, admittedly, I’m pre-disposed to liking. So consider that my disclaimer.
The Dark Knight picks up just shortly after we left off in Batman Begins. But with Bruce Wayne feeling like his work as the Caped Crusader is coming to a close thanks to the work of Harvey Dent and a corruption fighting District Attorney who is committed to bringing order to Gotham City things seem to be calming down, or at least coming to a point where the actual system can begin working. Into that mix comes the mysterious Joker, a “better class of criminal” that is devoted to bringing down Batman – and Dent – in his efforts to…well…enjoy himself as chaos is set free in the streets again.
And that leads us to the main issue surrounding this campaign. The early stages of the push by Warner Bros. had focused heavily, as we’ll see as we progress, on the Joker’s involvement. He was causing mischief online and his markings were seen on the first posters and other materials. The Joker was, to make it clear, being positioned as the main selling point for the movie.
But then Heath Ledger, the actor portraying him, died, with reports surrounding his death speculating either on an accidental overdose of medication or a purposeful suicide. Gone was not only a son and father of a little girl, but also the person who was going to be at the forefront of the campaign. His death threw into question just about everything. Does Warner Bros. continue to use the Joker in the campaign? Do they continue on with plans to create Joker toys and other items? Or will this all just be too ghoulish?
But now, before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s look at the way The Dark Knight was – and in some cases wasn’t sold to the movie-going public. Because of the way the campaign was structured it’s going to require a bit of deviation from the usual format.
Part I: Why So Serious? (Or, He Believes in Harvey Dent Too)
Not content with creating a handful of “viral” sites to promote the movie, Warner Bros. has instead engaged on what might just be the most ambitious and far-reaching online alternate reality game ever. Compared to this effort, online campaigns for Cloverfield, Snakes on a Plane and The Blair Witch Project pale by comparison. They can’t even hold a candle to The Dark Knight.
As we’ll see, the campaign weaves in and out of the mainstream campaign, working to make sure that fans are not only engaged and interested but active as well. It has achieved what few others have been able to – making the audience willing participants in seeking out marketing and then talking about it – and has been able to sustain that over the course of a year, with anticipation and buzz increasing as time goes on and not waning as it by all rights should have.
Warner Bros. launched the official website for The Dark Knight in May of 2007 as little more than a placeholder, showing off the new movie’s branding but not much else. But shortly after launch it linked, via the Bat-symbol that dominated the site, to IBelieveInHarveyDent, the campaign website for the candidate for District Attorney. Adorning the site was the face of Aaron Eckhart, the actor portraying Dent, giving us our first good look at him, though that amounted to just a shot of him in a suit.
And we’re off and running.
A few days after the Dent campaign site was launched, comic shop owners began reporting – and in some cases complaining – about the appearance of Joker cards that were being strewn around their stores. These cards contained a cryptic message that “I believe in Harvey Dent too!,” a message that led to the discovery of IBelieveInHarveyDentToo, which featured the same picture of Dent as before, though this time vandalized with horrific clown make-up. After enough people registered for updates on the site the image of Dent was taken down and replaced with a picture of The Joker, the first official shot of the character as he appears in the movie that fans were given. This stayed on the site for just a few days, though, and was soon taken down, leaving visitors with the message that someone will “See you in December.”
So already we see the pattern that will be used throughout the ARG: Put up mysterious site, promise something in return for enough participation, deliver on promise and the shut things down with the message that there’s more to come. Across this online effort the reward is, more often than not, a piece of the movie’s traditional marketing campaign, be it a poster or a trailer or something like that. This puts the audience in a position of power – Getting a look at a new trailer or whatever becomes dependent on their activity or at least their alertness. They *need* to participate or the goodies will go away. At least that’s the perception that’s created through such efforts.
Moving back to the story line, the next move by the Joker was to distribute $1 bills directing people to WhySoSerious.com – a site that would become the hub of the online campaign and which is taken directly, we’d later see, from the movie itself. The bills were distributed at the San Diego Comic-Con in July of 2007, pretty much ensuring the participation of the legions of geeks in attendance there. The site told recipients to be at a certain place at a certain time and then sent them on a scavenger hunt of sorts, with those participating getting Joker masks and, once the clues had all been assembled, the site debuting the teaser trailer.
WhySoSerious was briefly taken down, with the URL forwarding to Rent-A-Clown, which listed the names of those that had participated in the San Diego game as employees.
The ARG then entered a bit of a dark period between the end of July and the beginning of October, when WhySoSerious was relaunched, this time showing a pumpkin with a bat-shaped mouth, a direct homage to the Loeb/Lee Batman graphic novel, a book that prominently featured a pre-Two Face Harvey Dent. That focus on Two Face is important here since, over the course of October, half and only half the pumpkin would slowly rot, resulting in a disfigurement that immediately evoked the long-time Batman villain. The connection was only strengthened by the fact that, as was widely believed, something would happen on Halloween, when the candle would be burnt out completely and the rotting process complete.
That’s exactly what happened, too. On November 1st the site changed yet again, this time containing a hidden message that, once deciphered, led to RorysDeathKiss.
That site – whose name is notable since that’s the false name the movie was shot under while in Chicago – challenged people to gather in groups and take pictures of themselves in Joker-esque makeup in front of national monuments and other recognizable locations.
Those who did so – a process that involved offering a mailing address – later got physical copies of The Gotham Times while the rest of us got the paper’s website. In the paper were various stories of crimes committed, news on the mysterious Batman and other items of interest to the Gotham citizenry.
Not one to leave anything alone, though, the Joker created his own version called the TheHaHaHaTimes, featuring the same stories, though in this case versions that had been given a makeover by the lunatic.
It’s at this point that what had been a fun little diversion explodes into a fully realized alternate universe. Sites called WeAreTheAnswer, GothamPolice, GothamNationalBank, RememberingRegina, GothamCab, GothamCityRail, GVAFoundation, AcmeSecuritySystems, SaintSwithunsChurch and GothamUSD all pop up as a result of the stories in the paper. GothamCab’s site eventually then led to BettysHouseofPies.
WeAreTheAnswer, a site for community participation in fighting crime, eventually led to a new page on the GothamPolice site, and the BettysHouseofPies site led to GDPIAD, which featured an audio clip of two corrupt cops who had previously been mentioned in the Gotham Times being arrested. This side of the campaign would take a brief break, with the last thing offered being another audio clip, this time of one of a confession by one of the arrested officers.
All this while the Joker was leading people down a path from the Ha Ha Ha Times to Whysoserious.com/Personalityprofile, Whysoserious.com/mausoleum, Whysoserious.com/theperfectgetaway and eventually to Whysoserious.com/outoftime.and then Whysoserious.com/Steprightup.
It’s the last one that would have the most immediate pay-off since it contained instructions to pick up packages at 22 locations nationwide at a certain time on December 4th. Inside that package was a birthday cake with a cell phone baked into it.
There was also a new page branching off of the Step Right Up section of WhySoSerious, a section that featured a countdown clock to December 4th, that revealed the first teaser poster for the movie. At that time in the mainstream campaign, the first five minutes for the movie were being shown in front of IMAX prints of I Am Legend.
The release of the poster, and the end of this particular story arc in the campaign, came just a few days before Heath Ledger’s passing.
Whether motivated by his death of part of the plan all along – I tend to believe the latter simply because this had to have been designed ahead of time for it to be this well coordinated – the ARG then took a shift from pranks being committed by the joker and his band of ner-do-wells toward the campaign of crusading district attorney candidate Harvey Dent.
The IBelieveinHarveyDent site, the first of these microsites to appear, received an upgrade to act as the hub of his campaign for office. Materials like downloadable posters and campaign signs were added there, with his “supporters” being encouraged to then take a picture of themselves with the signage and then submit it to the site.
The campaign even came off the Internet in the form of the Dentmobile, a van that went around the country to various locations where the campaign had organized rallys. In some cases the rallies were met with less than enthusiasm by the actual police of some cities. Materials like Gotham City voter registration cards and other campaign materials were handed out and mailed to some of those who had registered on various sites so far, a new issue of the Gotham Times among the swag mailed. Of course the Joker responded with an updated version of the HaHaHaTimes, showing a consistency from the previous effort as well as signaling clearly that despite Ledger’s death, the character was living on in the campaign.
The battle for the District Attorney slot game heated as sites like one for Dana Worthington, another contender in the race, and one for incumbent DA Roger Garcetti popping up. At the same time supporters of justice in Gotham launched sites for the Maiden Avenue Report and the action group Citizens for Batman. Gotham Cable News also came on the online scene, profiling the candidates and providing more depth to our understanding of the political battles in the city.
Concerned Citizens for a Better Gotham, a front group for those solely interested in maintaining the corrupt status quo, sent out half-burned Dent campaign buttons at the end of March, just before players in the Joker-centric part of the game would get a message that, after visiting a page on Acme Security Systems’ site, would turn out to be from Lt. James Gordon informing them he knew who they were and they worked for him now. This came after those who had previously received Joker cell phones were told to go to various locations via the Clown Travel Agency, where they now received Joker-colored bowling balls and a new phone. It was on that phone that Gordon contacted them.
That coincided with the launch of the site for the Gotham Police Major Crimes Unit, a division headed by Gordon and committed to rooting out corrupt officials and tackling other, well, major crimes. More police officers would then be implicated in dirty dealings, with many of these cops and other officials trying to turn the debate against Dent and portray him as the crooked one, an assertion vehemently denied by ADA Rachel Dawes in a press conference that was distributed on the Maiden Avenue Report’s site.
Dent himself was then scheduled for a press conference but that had to be bumped when two of the cops accused of corruption tried to prove their innocence by taking hostages, a situation that Dent himself was able to negotiate an end to.
The investigation being run by Jim Gordon continued through text messages and more incriminating documents being added to various sites, culminating in Operation Slipknot, an effort to keep corrupt officials and cops from leaving the city. This involved having participants call the Intercontinental Hotel and having packages re-routed to them instead of their intended recipients. This led to the fall of Concerned Citizens for a Better Gotham, the sham advocacy group.
The Joker came back on the scene again by updating the It’s All Part of the Plan portion of WhySoSerious with information on coordinating local meetings at certain places. Upon meeting, the players were tasked first with finding numeric clues and then entering them on the site. That led to a carnival-esque duck shooting game at Sitting Ducks and then, after a countdown of a day or less, to a new Happy Trails page that contained the new theatrical trailer for the movie.
Harvey Dent’s campaign continued on through all of this, with his election soon being announced on the newly launched Gotham Cable News site, featuring the news program “Gotham Tonight.” The Gotham Times also made Dent’s win news and pointed to Gotham City Pizzeria’s site, a site that gave away a handful of free pizzas around the country. That pizza place’s site would later be hit by the Joker and point to WhySoSerious.com/MyHero, where people got their first glimpse of footage of Two-Face, footage that was shortly taken down.
The Joker then sent phone-owners a puzzle that leads to LaughTillItHurts page on WhySoSerious, a page that would eventually feature security camera footage of a Gotham bank.
Gordon’s Operation Slipknot would continue on, as would the Joker’s campaign of chaos, with the addition of a RedBalloons page, featuring another carnival midway-type game, to WhySoSerious. Gotham Cable News also continued adding Batman sightings and other news to its site. The Joker would take credit in a message sent to supporters that he was responsible for killing a mobster, a murder Gordon was investigating.
Eventually two more games were added to WhySoSerous, Operator (which involved all the cell phone owners) and PunkDrop. When the latter was completed a new poster was revealed.
Messages left on a variety of sites coupled with software keys that were decoded by participants led to the discovery of events being organized July 8th in Chicago and New York, an event that turned out to be the displaying of the Bat-symbol on the Sears Tower and Woolworth Building, respectively, events that were live-streamed on the web for those not able to make it.
WhySoSerious updated one more time with a new Overture page that counted down to 10PM on July 10th. At that time an email was sent to the Joker’s army that lead to a list of times and locations for free IMAX screenings of the movie, events that quickly sold out.
Just days before the movie, those with Joker phones got a call from a person supposedly being held hostage within Gotham National Bank, a call that ended with what appeared to be the Joker’s laugh before ending abruptly.
Just a couple of days before the end of the campaign all of ARG’s sites were defaced by the Joker, with the odd eyes and faces being pasted over all the pictures and his signature “hahahahaha” scrawled all over the screen, marking what appears to be his last laugh at the people of Gotham.
To sum up, here’s a list (as complete as I can make it) of all the sites that have been involved in this campaign’s storyline, in no particular order.
It should be noted that this recap would not have been possible without the Batman ARG Wiki, which helped me fill in some of the holes I had missed in the story line. The people who put this together are obviously insane and we should thank them for that.
Part II: The Dark Knight Returns (Or, We’re Hoping This Title Gets Everyone Thinking About Frank Miller’s Work)
As we’ve seen, a good portion of the ARG campaign has included aspects of the mainstream, traditional marketing push, with posters and trailers being included as the rewards for playing along, sometimes over the course of months. But since that’s not universally true and since these traditional elements deserve their own analysis, let’s look at how they work in and of themselves.
This separation is important since the two components are appealing to, if not drastically, at least partially different audiences. Online Warner Bros. has been able to activate a serious core of fans and Batman/comic enthusiasts who have reveled in being part of Joker’s army or in finding out what they need to do as part of the Gotham PD’s task force. But offline there is the larger movie-going audience that needs to be appealed to. So the elements that are crossing media need to not just be geared for audience that has “found” them through unlocking clues, but which sees them as part of the larger media landscape they live in.
The difference is huge. Through the ARG, the participants have sought out the advertising and embraced it, reveling in a new poster or trailer because they were excited about it. But offline advertising is generally something folks try to avoid, either passively by just ignoring billboards or print ads or actively by fast-forwarding their DVRs or using pop-up blockers as they surf the Internet.
The first teaser poster that was revealed began the process of setting up the Joker as a source of instability in the world, specifically Batman’s world. It shows a simple brick wall like what you’d find in an alley. But on this wall is graffiti in the form of a clown’s face, with the mouth taking on the shape of a bat. This not only hints at the mayhem to come but also begins on the print side the focal point of the movie’s branding, which combines the continued usage of the very sleek and clean Bat-symbol with the insane scrawled artwork of the Joker. It also brought the Why So Serious? line into the campaign fully.
The next two emphasized the slick more than the chaos. One featured Batman, shot from behind, staring out his penthouse window, a location we had briefly seen in the first full trailer that had debuted prior to this. The other shot the Joker from behind too, only he’s standing in the middle of a city street, a shot also similar to that found in the recent full trailer. Both were very shiny and emphasized the sort of blue-ish light that is found throughout the movie’s campaign, a color theme that replaces the rusty brown of the Batman Begins marketing.
“Why So Serious?” would be revisited with a solo Joker poster that featured him writing that phrase – seemingly in blood – on the other side of a window. It’s certainly the most disturbing one-sheet of the campaign to data and possibly the most disturbing one of the campaign in total. That’s because it’s main goal is to set this version of the Joker apart from others. He’s not a prankster. He’s not just a slightly kooky grandfather. He’s a murderer with blood literally on his hands who thinks that what he’s doing is really really funny. This Joker is taking lives and he’s having a blast doing it. It’s that rawness that makes this poster so legitimately chilling to see.
Next up is a series of three posters, one for Batman one for the Joker and one for Harvey Dent, marking his first appearance in the print campaign, something that happened right around the time the “Harvey Dent for DA” campaign was heating up online. Each one holds up an object he’s associated with. So Joker holds up a joker playing card, Batman a throwing knife and Dent a campaign button. Each has half his face obscured by the darkness they’re in, something that means something different for each character, or at least it can mean something different for each one. For the Joker it’s as if he’s coming out of the darkness. For Batman it’s his struggles with duality and for Dent it’s a bit of foreshadowing of his eventual transformation. All three were not only released individually but also as part of a single image, which works just a little bit better than the three do separately.
The next three posters that appeared were also part of a themed set, though not quite in the same way as those above. One showed Batman flying through the sky on his Batpod, one had the Joker in much the same pose as on the above teaser, though this time shot from the front, and the third was a theatrical poster. The theatrical poster especially is great since it does the best job of conveying the movie’s branding. The overall color palette used is the same as we’ve seen on some of the other posters and in the trailers – slick blue-ish grey – and also includes the Bat symbol being defaced, this time as it forms a ball of fire coming out of the building Batman is standing in front of.
One additional poster cropped up toward the end of the online ARG. This one featured Batman, but portrayed his face as being sort of made up of playing cards, most of which were joker cards. Scrawled on his face was not only the now-familiar red smile over his very serious scowl but also various lines of the Joker’s, including “It’s all part of the plan,” Let’s put a smile on that face” and others, all meant to emphasize how messing with the Batman’s mind is Task #1 on the Joker’s plans for de-stabilizing Gotham.
The first teaser trailer Warner Bros. released was very much a teaser in every sense of the word. Featuring absolutely no footage from the movie, it simply set some dialogue from, respectively, the Joker, Bruce Wayne and the Alfred. Most of the dialogue focused on how things had changed, how the emergence of the Joker has once again disrupted the balance of power in Gotham City and how the villain just can’t seem to be reasoned with.
While I never felt the dialogue sat comfortably in the trailer, what it does very well is establish the visual branding of the movie, as the blueish light in back of the familiar Bat-symbol builds in intensity until it actually begins to chip away at the symbol. That works to not only introduce the dominant color of the campaign to the audience but also hint at the movie’s plot, which will see Batman having his core self being broken apart.
The first theatrical trailer was, quite frankly, all about introducing The Joker to the audience. He’s the one providing the narration at the beginning, he’s the one addressing the assembled room of thugs and toughs and he’s the one threatening people left and right. All the characters are reacting, either emotionally or physically, to the actions of the Joker, showing him to be such a force of nature that he changes not only the larger equation but all the little ones as well. It’s enormously effective and does a fantastic job of introducing the audience to what would soon become so many classic lines that would show up throughout the rest of the campaign.
If the first theatrical trailer was primarily interested in introducing the Joker, the second theatrical trailer worked to introduce everyone else. Harvey Dent, Alfred, James Gordon and Lucious Fox all get some screen time here as the trailer tries to set the stage for the epic story the movie will be trying to convey. It maybe works a little less well than the previous one simply because the focus isn’t quite as tight. But it’s not by any means a bad trailer, just one that is trying to accomplish different things. It still clips along very well and keeps the tension high for the audience.
In late May USA Today announced the results of its first ever Golden Trailer Awards polling, with the spot for The Dark Knight taking the top spot by a margin of 44 percent, signaling this was a highly anticipated movie among members of what I’m guessing is a decidedly mainstream audience.
All three trailers, especially the latter two, display an amazing amount of brand consistency, with a bit of similar footage but more importantly a single look and feel. It’s the same sort of consistency that we saw in the posters and which contributes to one more aspect of a great branding campaign.
You know what the biggest problem with the movie’s official website is? Since so much of this campaign has been online and has been so interactive, the relatively standard site here kind of pales in comparison. I don’t have a whole lot to say about this stuff so let’s just take a quick look at how the site is divided up
Synopsis: A decent recap of the movie, though like so many of such sections it eventually turns into a credit block and not an actual description of the movie’s story.
About the Film: Bios and backgrounds on the Cast and Filmmakers. You can also Download Production Notes, which make up in large part for the underwhelming Synopsis.
Video: All three trailers are all you’ll find here. I’m a bit disappointed the TV spots or any of the other video assets are here. On the upside, though, you can embed any of the trailers on your own site or choose from a variety of other formats to watch the trailers in.
Photo Gallery: Just 14 stills, almost all of which I’ve seen elsewhere previously.
Downloads: Screensavers, Posters, Wallpapers and Buddy Icons are what you’ll find here. I like the fact that all the posters are here, something that’s usually overlooked on sites, and are in reverse chronological order. Some are missing, but it’s still a good offering.
Friends of Gotham: This is where you’ll find links to the movie’s promotional partners as well as to other sites that have run promotions or contests relating to the movie.
he Dark Knight on Comcast: A stand-alone link to Comcast’s mini-site (described below). They must have paid a whole lot of cash to get their own link off the main page in addition to being linked in the Friends of Gotham section.
Tickets & Showtimes: Pretty self-explanitory.
Music: Links to a stand-alone site for the movie’s soundtrack, which features a few music clips and some news headlines relating to the score and its composers.
There’s not all that much on the movie’s MySpace page, just one of the trailers, a handful of photos and a sweepstakes you can enter.
Again, I don’t mean to label these sites as “bad,” but the online campaign that was part of the ARG was just *so good* that these relatively standard efforts just feel uninspired. I kept hunting around on the official site for hidden links or something but never found anything like that, leaving an oddly unfulfilled feeling in my gut.
Eventually, about three weeks before the movie’s release date, Warner Bros. released the first five minutes of the movie – the same clip that was shown in-front of IMAX showings of I Am Legend – online.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
Part of the online advertising effort had Warner Bros. taking over the front-page of social network MySpace on the day that site received a much-hyped makeover of its design and functionality. The flaming Bat-symbol from the theatrical poster was featured at the top of the page as the trailer played next to it. The buy was a coup for Warner since this was a day when a lot of people – not just MySpace’s regular user base but also a lot of online geeks who wanted to see if the Most Hated User Experience on the Internet had improved any. That sort of anticipation and sure-fire media coverage was bound to include tons of screen-grabs of the new design, screen-grabs that would likely include the Dark Knight ad at the top. That’s of course exactly what happened, extending the reach of the ad buy exponentially as everyone shared those grabs on Flickr and elsewhere. All that results in Warner Bros. – or whoever does their media planning and buying – among the smartest advertising folks ever.
One of the biggest partners signing on for this second entry in the Batman 2.0 franchise is Hershey. The chocolate company redesigned its Peanut Butter Cups and other products to resemble or feature the Bat-symbol and created branded packaging with Batman on the product. “Special Editions” of the peanut butter bars came with the Joker’s face scrawled on the top of the candy in the same manner as he’s defaced posters and other materials, which I think is very cool. The packaging also featured an instant-win game offering an array of prizes, from a Batman-themed MV Agusta F4 motorcycle to Joker masks to home theater systems and more.
The microsite from Hershey also featured photos from the movie and all three trailers, as well as a call to submit videos that featured some destruction of the Bat-shaped products by the Joker, with a Reese’s prize pack going to the best one.
Nokia and Verizon Wireless partnered on a limited Dark Knight Edition Nokia 6205 phone that featured the Bat emblem on the outside of the phone and exclusive content like wallpapers, voice tones, screensavers and the movie’s trailer already loaded on the device. The phone also came packaged with an exclusive Joker playing card and pointed people to FightForGothamCity.com where they could see if they instantly won $10,000 with that card and also download more Dark Knight content to their phones via Verizon’s V Cast.
The three-way partnership also featured a co-branded widget that could be added to sites and social networks. When viewing the “Movie Counter” tab on the widget it counted down to the film’s release and the “Phone Counter” release counted down to that of the phone. There was also a site where you could upload a picture of yourself or a friend and place them in Arkham Asylum.
Comcast was a big partner, acting as the creator – or at least distributor – of the Gotham Cable News station and its “Gotham Tonight” news show. The episodes, which chronicled the campaign of Harvey Dent, sightings of Batman and other local interest items, were available not only online but were actually broadcast to Comcast subscribers, with short versions showing up on TV and full versions available on-demand.
The cable company’s site, the real one not the ARG one, featured a bunch of movie material, enough to give the official site a run for its money. There were all three trailers and a handful of TV spots in “Video” along with exclusive featurettes on the IMAX production, the making of the Joker’s henchmen masks and more facets of the making of the movie. “Downloads” had IM icons, Wallpaper and a Screensaver. Finally there was a Synopsis and a handful of Photos under “Images.”
There was also a co-branded commercial that was created that took place in Gotham City.
Along with Comcast, Domino’s Pizza was one of the promotional partners that crossed over from the mainstream campaign to the ARG effort as well. As we’ve seen, they were the presenters of Gotham City Pizzeria. For the real-world citizens, the chain introduced a new pizza that was delivered in one or four specially-designed boxes, each of which features a different component of Batman’s costume. The section of the Domino’s site devoted to the movie featured trailers and other movie footage as well as downloads like wallpapers and a “The Cards Tell the Tale” interactive game. Finally, Domino’s announced it will deliver $10,000 daily via Gotham City armored truck to a lucky customer.
Domino’s even debuted a new full-length trailer on the site that is, well, awesome. It contains a lot of footage we’ve already seen, but also some new stuff, particularly in the form of reactions to lines we’ve seen throughout the campaign. It strikes a very dark tone and has a lot of violence and plays into the idea that the Joker is just screwing with people A LOT in this movie.
Batman became the latest fictional celebrity to be featured in the “Got Milk?” campaign, appearing with the famous milk mustache in a series of print ads. Batman’s portion of the site was nicely tricked out though, and not just a toss-off effort. The site contained a trailer, a widget promoting a contest to have your likeness inserted into an upcoming comic and a downloadable Fan Kit. That Fan Kit contained a good number of stills from the movie, some of the posters and images of the character from the “Got Milk” ad. I love this kind of thing since it makes the collection and distribution of official images so much easier.
Kmart got in on the action in a big way, partnering with Warner Bros. to become the “Official Batman Headquarters.” That includes the creation of in-store boutiques devoted to Dark Knight merchandise. It also offered $5 off coupons for select toys with the purchase of five boxes of cereal or other specific items from promotional partner General Mills, who slapped Batman’s visage on a bunch of their boxes. A free movie ticket was also available to those who bought three bags of Reese’s Batman-themed products.
Kmart’s position as the preferred destination for Batman merchandise is being promoted by interactive marketing firm Reactrix Media Network, the creators of those floor-based display units that passers-by can, well, interact with. Reactrix’s Stepscape displays in malls and other locations are showing images of Kmart’s Batman boutiques.
Bat-branded shopping bags and other point-of-purchase and in-store materials at Kmart locations will promote the retailer’s preferred partner position.
Finally, Xbox Live has created Joker and Batman-designed boxes of their gaming system.
Warner Bros. helped its own cause by creating a new version of the Batman roller coaster at Six Flags theme parks across the country. The rides, which have been around since about 1992, were redone with new Dark Knight-specific decorations, turning those waiting in line into citizens of Gotham City, moving around a city street while hearing campaign messages for Harvey Dent over the PA system. And while we’re talking about entertainment we need to mention the mobile advergame that was created for the movie.
The movie also got a boost in the form of Batman: Gotham Knight, a direct-to-DVD anthology of short animated stories that, based on reports, takes place in the same universe as the new movies, kind of in-between the two films.
There was also a widget that you could add to either your blog or social network profile that made the Bat-signal stronger for everyone that added the widget and played the trailer. You can check out a five-minute preview of the title on MTV.
In addition to all these cross-promotional efforts, the movie has also received an extraordinary advertising campaign. Something around 15 TV spots have been created, each one taking a slightly different tone than the others, with some focusing on Batman, some on the Joker and many featuring the tiniest slivers of new footage.
There’s also been heavy online and out-of-home advertising that’s been done. In Chicago the latter has included bus-side ads. That’s led to the slightly surreal situation where I see an ad for The Dark Knight on a bus that’s driving down a street that, last summer, was closed because of the filming of The Dark Knight.
Toyota worked with Warner Bros. to bring the Batmobile – aka the Tumbler – to the Silverstone Formula One race a couple of weeks ago. All the Toyota cars also got Dark Knight makeovers and some of the teams sported Batsuit-esque overalls.
The Dark Knight was sure to be a heavily covered release under any circumstances since it was going to be such a huge release and was so anticipated. But Ledger’s death became the hook on which many of these stories wound up being hung, dominating the stories and skewing everything. Even I was asked to comment on “how do you market a movie after a star’s death?” more than once (actually about five times) to the point that it became a tad ridiculous. It’s certainly an issue to be discussed, but unfortunately most of the coverage just used that question to revisit the potentially lurid details of his passing and, as Drew Curtis of Fark says in his book, make for an easy story as they copy and paste 2/3 of what they wrote when he died along with a few new quotes.
The other major focus of the media coverage in the last couple weeks before the movie hit theaters was the inevitable “Can the movie live up to the hype? ” stories that, again, allowed writers to do a little naval-gazing as they attempted to look prescient should the movie disappoint at the box-office.
Aside from those two angles, the talent involved in the movie got the majority of the focus as the press attempted to get something good from Aaron Eckhart or Christopher Nolan or Christian Bale. Sometimes a new detail would leak out, resulting in a firestorm of blog coverage that invariably led to assumptions that were unfounded and untrue, but who the hell cares about that?
The History Channel used the movie’s release as an opportunity to gain some viewership, running a special on the history of Batman that explored the psychology of the character with an emphasis on his vigilante tendencies.
HBO ran one of their “First Look” specials on the movie’s making. It’s typically fluffy in nature but has some good stuff as well. And the movie got some more publicity when Warner Bros. announced it would put a number of highly-anticipated trailers in front of it. It also earned some street-cred by sponsoring a web-show that was popular with the online geek crowd, attaching the movie’s trailer to the videos.
One of the biggest components of the media campaign was the movie’s IMAX release, which did a lot of good to boost IMAX awareness and interest in general. There was a lot of coverage of how Nolan shot so much of the movie in IMAX format, leading to a situation where many of the IMAX screenings of opening weekend were sold out.
Finally, while there’s nothing official about it, the fact that some took the time to figure out what the Batmobile/Tumbler would look like as a Transformer speaks to the movie’s fanbase.
As I stated at the outset, this is a campaign that’s literally unlike anything that’s come before. It blows away Iron Man, Cloverfield, Transformers and just about everything else not because it’s bigger than everything else but because it’s so much more interactive and engaging than anything else. I’ve never seen a marketing push that so clearly called for the audience to participate in the marketing and have never seen the audience get so excited about being marketed to. Oh sure, everyone was talking about Jamie & Teddy videos as part of the Cloverfield campaign, but there was nothing that the audience could do once the videos were found aside from speculate on what some photo frame in the background meant for the movie’s plot.
This effort from Warner Bros., though, had people looking into source code on sites to find clues and hidden messages. That’s a level of engagement that’s above and beyond what we’ve seen before and something that takes this marketing to a whole new level.
More than that, the ARG is impressive from the point of view of creativity. This whole story arc had to have been mapped out and designed well in advance, meaning someone – or a group of someone’s – sat in a room and thought about what sort of havoc the Joker could reap as all the characters spead toward the movie’s story. And that’s exactly what all this: Lead in to the movie. The last part of the story line had hostages being taken in the Gotham Bank and that’s right where the movie begins, with the Joker and his men staging that robbery.
But even moving beyond the completely immersive ARG that went on – an ARG that, I’d be willing to bet, the majority of the audience had no idea was happening – the mainstream campaign was pretty impressive. Everything works very well, both on their own and with each other. It maybe doesn’t hit the same heights of unified branding as the campaign for Batman Begins, but the Dark Knight marketing is much more spread out, so some loss is unfortunately to be expected.
Let’s address the elephant in the room right now, though. Warner Bros. addressed the death of one of the movie’s stars, whose character is a focal point of the story, in the best way it possibly could: By not addressing it. Instead of making a big deal of it either by overplaying it or removing him from the campaign they just kept on target, and the campaign is the stronger for it.
It’s an amazing campaign that, honestly, deserves to be the new standard-bearer for interactive marketing of movies or, for that matter, just about any form of consumer product.
PICKING UP THE SPARE
- 7/30/08: There’s an application for the iPhone or the iPod Touch that allows you to add the scrawled Joker make-up to any picture of yourself, whether it’s something you already have or something you take using the devices. This is exactly the sort of thing that I thought should have been part of the campaign and I don’t know if this is an official application from Warner Bros. or not, but it should be.
- 7/30/08: The Interpublic Group Lab blog (disclosure: I work for an IPG firm) takes a look at the campaign, giving a very basic overview of some of the sites and other marketing ventures taken in support of the movie.
- 7/30/08: You have to wonder what the folks at the Santikos Theater in San Antonio, Texas were thinking. The theater had been engaging in their own little viral marketing campaign in anticipation of the movie’s release that culminated in a cake that looked like a bomb being sent to a local TV station. That, of course, was followed by the authorities becoming involved when not everyone realized it was just a prank. I give them props for originality but…well…come on.
- 7/30/08: The movie’s shadow caused a drop in the usual number of independent films being released this past weekend. While the movies that were released or which were already out did fairly well, most decided not to go head-to-head with Batman.
- 7/30/08: It did, on the other hand, prove to be a blessing for Imax. The movie’s release on the big, big format was a major component not only of the paid campaign but also of the public relations and publicity surrounding the film. It might even prove to be the thing that brings Imax releases of mainstream films out from being “an interesting experiment” and turns it into a must-have part of a movie’s release patter.
- 7/30/08: Annalee at IO9 uses The Dark Knight as the launching pad for a self-categorized rant on how ARGs are just not very interesting and kind of pointless.
- 7/30/08: And speaking of the ARG, 42 Entertainment, the interactive agency behind its development and execution, has issued a press release touting just how interesting it was and how it achieved the goals it was designed to meet.
- 7/30/08: Dan Calladine has an interesting chart of Facebook Wall references to either The Dark Knight, Iron Man or Indiana Jones that shows Batman was the flat-out winner in this rough measure of word-of-mouth buzz.
- 8/4/09: The Hive Blog provides some stats around the reach of the viral ARG for the movie.
- 8/29/08: The Hollywood Reporter revisits the day Heath Ledger died and how it impacted Warner Bros. marketing plans for th emovie.
- 9/11/08: Verizon and Glu Mobile are announcing a mobile game based on the movie, the only official licensed game from the film. Players square off against The Joker in the game, which I’m guessing is a side-scrolling adventure.
- 9/11/08: Warner Bros. is planning to re-release The Dark Knight to theaters – either conventional, IMAX or both, come January in an effort to position the film as a serious Oscar contender. The movie is coming to DVD in December in time for Christmas shopping so it’s likely this isn’t so much about boosting the box-office take for the film (though that’s certainly a consideration) but is largely a prestige thing.
- 12/11/08: The LAT is the latest to discuss the fine line Warner Bros. has been trying to walk as they push Heath Ledger for a Best Supporting Actor nomination while not appearing to exploit the late actor’s legacy in any way.
- 12/11/08: Despite some initial rumors to the contrary, Warner Bros. will indeed be re-releasing the movie in January, well after the film comes out on home video (which is this week). But even before the home video release the film has become the #1 movie download on iTunes.
- 12/19/08: Everyone’s talking about this very cool fan-made For Your Consideration campaign for The Dark Knight. Splash Page has the graphics that have been created and The Cycle has a good background on the creator of the campaign as well as what he hopes to accomplish. Let me just say that this is what happens when you give fans ownership of a brand – they get excited about it and want to see it win.
- 2/9/09: The NYT looks at the balancing act Warner Bros. is walking in making their case for Heath Ledger as Best Supporting Actor and not looking like, well, ghouls.
- 3/9/09: Publicists for The Dark Knight’s campaign were among those honored at the ICG Publicist’s award show.
- 3/9/09: 42 Entertainment, the agency behind the Why So Serious online campaign for the movie has released a handful of videos that explore the push.
- 01/05/10: The online campaign is pegged by, of all people, the writers of Cracked as being one of the first times that an effort like this rose above the level of distraction.