My prediction for The Dark Knight is that it will break the all time opening weekend box office numbers when it releases on July 18. If not that, then it will at least take the prize for the summer and the year. And why? Three reasons: 1) It’s a sequel, 2) It’s a comic book movie, and 3) It’s had the coolest marketing of any movie ever. Everytime I drive down Hollywood Blvd and see the latest 10 story spectacular ad (most recently the image on the left below), I’m just in awe of how sick this movie looks.
In addition to having a crazy good poster and billboard campaign, Knight has also broken new ground in post-Cloverfield viral marketing. The viral network of websites associated with Knight is substantial—almost mind-boggling. And the more you go digging around on one site, the deeper the rabbit hole goes. For example, this spring Warner Brothers unveiled the site IBelieveinHarveyDent.com, which consisted solely of a campaign ad for the politician character Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart). A few days later came the follow-up: IBelieveinHarveyDentToo.com. This site featured a scribbled-out version of the same campaign ad, apparently the defacing work of the Joker himself. At the bottom of this page you could input your e-mail address, and those who did received a message apparently from the Joker himself which read: “I always say, you never know what a man is truly made of until you peel the skin off his face one piece at a time.” It gave a unique X and Y coordinate, and if you followed a link that took you back to the site, you could “peel off” one pixel of the Harvey Dent campaign ad. Behind all the pixels was this horrifyingly scary countenance:
And apparently if you then sent an e-mail back to the e-mail that was sent to you, you immediately got this extremely cryptic reply back from the joker: “People always ask me about my charming boyish smile. Jessica used to love it. She was the loneliest girl in high school, and my first big kiss…”
But this is just one example of the massive, intricate marketing web Warner Brothers has woven. I’m sure there are many more than this, but I was able to track down ten unique urls associated with the marketing of the film: some associated with the Joker (here and here), some with Harvey Dent and Harvey Dent’s rival DA candidates (here and here), and countless sites about Gotham city newspapers, news channels, infrastructure, churches, etc.
Like all great marketing campaigns, the one for Knight proceeded in stages. Last year it started with a focus on the Joker, and then this spring it transitioned to a focus on Harvey Dent. Fittingly for an election year—and perhaps as a parody of American electoral politics—the Harvey Dent campaign has consisted of faux political rallies, campaign ads, downloadable widgets and banners, and various “I Believe in Harvey Dent” paraphernalia.
The websites have also been remarkable in their ability to tap in to that most crucial of all 21st-century marketing techniques: user-generated content. Websites allow fans to make their own videos or create their own “Batman sighting” photographs, for example. The viral nature of the whole operation also gives privileged status to those “most active users” who spend the time decoding riddles, finding easter eggs, etc. But it also builds intrigue for the casual users who just happen to see a “Why So Serious?” or “I Believe in Harvey Dent” poster.
With such an entertaining and beautiful marketing campaign, the actual release of the film threatens to be a letdown. But somehow I don’t think it will be. Not at all.