Saturday, May 21, 2011

Movie Marketing Part I: Going Viral

Friday marked the opening of the viral campaign for Chris Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises, and already it shows itself to be something to follow. The viral campaign for The Dark Knight remains, in my opinion, the best ever marketed by a studio, so I am very excited about following Nolan's 2012 production along these coming months. In light what's to come, I've decided to start a new multi-part series. In this new age of constant journalism, internet rumors, spoilers, and leaks, keeping secrets in the movie business is harder than ever, especially when working on such highly publicized productions like superhero movies. Hundreds of websites and blogs across the internet are dedicated to movie rumors (including my favorite: SuperHeroHype), along with those internet followers who are always willing to leak anything they can just to show dominance.

Chris Nolan, Jim Cameron, JJ Abrams, and Zach Snyder are all noted for their notoriously tight-lipped productions, but this series will focus less on the people and more on the styles through which studios market films. The mystery behind a project is, after all, one of film's greatest allures. More often than not, though, this marketing campaign is the product of the studio rather than the director. One of the newest forms of movie marketing came along with the rapid expansion of the internet in the past half decade by way of viral marketing, made even more prominent in the past few years with social networking media. It amazes me the extent to which a studio can go to get people involved with the marketing of a film, all as a way of both giving in to their demands to be kept informed while also distracting them from the real rumors. Nearly all movies nowadays create Facebook pages and Twitter trends and Tumblrs as a way of spreading themselves around the internet, but none have taken the possibilities to the extend of Nolan's Batman trilogy, led by the company 42 Entertainment (at least for TDK - DKR's company has not been made public).

--Be advised that an official promotional photo of Bane is shown after the break and is considered a LOW-LEVEL SPOILER--

The Dark Knight viral campaign lasted from production all the way through release and was followed by thousands in a time before the popularity of the film was widespread. This was an era when superhero movies were still represented by the original Spiderman and many fanboys doubted the casting of Heath Ledger as the Joker. From what I can remember (though no doubt there is a Wikipedia page detailing everything), the campaign involved over ten websites and several mailing lists. The websites, each different domain names with strange metaphors (Rory's Death Kiss, for example), had countdowns and riddles and pass codes used to find the name of another website or a new page, often with a production image (including the well seen photo above). The email lists included an election campaign for Harvey Dent plus citizen alerts from the Gotham Police Department, along with recurring editions of The Gotham Times.

No doubt the campaign for DKRises will include many of these elements as well, but at the same time Warner Bros. has started off with a new trick to show us just how much better it will be this time. It started with the official website for the film going live with nothing but a black screen and chanting. Clicking the page gives you the audio file of the chanting. Knowing the pure genius of people on the web, someone analyzed the waveform of the audio and discovered the repetition created the hash tag #TheFireRises (don't ask how this worked). Sure enough, there was a new Twitter account, and each new follower created a new pixel on an image at the website. The image was then revealed to be our first official look at Tom Hardy as Bane. Talk about beefed up for the role - I can't wait to see him cracking spines.

Viral marketing in combination with recent advances in social networking is an amazing new tool for movies whose limitations have not yet been reached. Trailers and posters are great, but they lack a sense of participation from the audience that social networking gives, and it goes even further than this. For The Dark Knight, one round of the campaign involved random people having to go to major cities across the U.S. and locate clues in a scavenger hunt, taking the campaign off the internet and into the real world. Photographs of the different clues eventually unveiled a new image of the Joker along with an audio clip of one of his lines. It's so cool, to me, to see strangers work together towards common, fun goals like finding out something new about an upcoming film.

It's also incredibly intelligent on the part of the studio to run campaigns like this for high profile films because it relieves otherwise building up pressures for information. If Nolan and company tried to keep fans completely in the dark it would ruin the film. It's just not possible with the internet. Pictures and video of sets and characters would leak (some have already leaked out of India) and hackers and trolls would be nonstop. They still are now, but it's not as bad when the studio steadily releases audio and pictures officially to wet our appetites and keep fans pleased. I know I've been wondering what Bane would look like, and now I have a, even sketchy, idea, and that will satisfy me for the coming months as Nolan's $250 million epic shoots all its glory.

DKR is still a very secretive project, as it should be, and it will remain as much until July of 2012 when the film releases at midnight, but the difference between this and Batman Begins (which few people really followed or even saw) is that people know and want to know more. Keeping secrets in Hollywood today is nigh impossible, but it is possible to meet fans halfway, and for the most part fans are willing to meet halfway, too. Film is an industry and movies are its product, and marketing them is no different than marketing makeup or clothes or music, if not the hardest. Theatrical trailers, viral campaigns, Facebook pages, TV spots, clips, and scavenger hunts are all pieces of a huge puzzle that, when well directed, gradually fall into place in an era when people know about a movie upwards of two to three years before it releases. Viral campaigns are the newest edition to the toolset, and only makes fans say, "What you just released is awesome... but what aren't you telling us," and they keep asking all the way to the box office.

We will continue to post updates on the viral campaign of The Dark Knight Rises along with our previews and reviews of the mass of films releasing this summer and next, so stayed tuned!

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