How The Dark Knight Perfected Viral Movie Marketing

How The Dark Knight Perfected Viral Movie Marketing

This article is part of a new initiative on IGN where we spend a whole month exploring topics we find interesting in the world of video games. July is Launches month, where we take an in-depth look at the soaring highs and frustrating lows that come with debuting a new console, movie, or video game. [poilib element=”accentDivider”] You certainly didn’t need to know anything about the “Why So Serious?” marketing campaign — or even know what an ARG was — to enjoy The Dark Knight when it hit theaters on July 18, 2008. But for 11 million people in 75 countries across the world, certain scenes in Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster played a little differently. When the Joker capped off his bravura bank robbery by fleeing in a school bus, those who played the ARG could say, “I helped him steal that!” When the Joker kidnapped Batman-inspired vigilante Brian Douglas, players could say, “Hey, I know him!” And when Harvey Dent vowed to stamp out organized crime and police corruption in Gotham City, players could say, “That’s why I voted for him.” This is the unique joy of an ARG (short for “Alternate Reality Game”): The ability to break through the traditional barrier that separates a franchise from its fandom and feel, in a very real way, that you’ve entered the story. In an age where Hollywood measures success by not just how big an audience is, but by how passionate an audience is, “Why So Serious?” is a key example of what can happen when there’s a concerted effort made to cultivate a uniquely engaged fanbase. Even now, that kind of experience is rarely conceived or executed. For more than a year before The Dark Knight’s release, a team of people at the Burbank-based agency 42 Entertainment were working behind the scenes, engineering a series of elaborate, Dark Knight-themed experiences, both online and offline, for an ever-growing audience of Batman devotees. Beginning online with the first image of Heath Ledger as the Joker — but quickly transitioning into a series of immersive real-world experiences — “Why So Serious?” grew to encompass everything from Harvey Dent campaign rallies to scavenger hunts that led players to Joker-themed treasures in bakeries and bowling alleys, with a climax that saw the Bat Signal projected across several urban skylines. Thirteen years after its original launch, “Why So Serious” is an experience that would be impossible to replicate;…
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