Opinion: The Pros and Cons of Viral Marketing


As I have said before, and will say hundreds more times until “The Dark Knight Rises” comes out in theaters, the viral marketing campaign for “The Dark Knight” was phenomenal. Up until that point, marketing for movies hadn’t evolved to be much more than posters and trailers. The campaign for TDK made fans of that film feel as though Gotham City was a real city and we were a part of it. From signing up to be a part of the Gotham City Police Department to actually voting in the historical election that awarded Harvey Dent his District Attorney position, the marketing for that film helped set it up in the real world, where things were going on before the movie even began. Since TDK hit theaters, I have seen other movies take a page out of their book and start to become more detailed with their advertising, to varying degrees of success. But TDK will always stick out in my mind because it was the first film to do viral marketing well.

That being said, times have changed drastically since 2007/2008. When the campaign was in full force, people didn’t know what to expect. Now, we know what the marketers are capable of. This is both good and bad, and that is the topic of today’s post: the pros and cons of viral marketing. We will start with the pros.
Like I said earlier in this post, the marketing for TDK helped make viewers feel as though they were a part of something more than a movie. Characters like the Joker, Jim Gordon, and Harvey Dent were made real as we were able to assist them in their efforts, whether good or bad. Furthermore, with each new leg of the campaign that was released, the hype for that film grew exponentially. I honestly believe that that is why “The Dark Knight” did so well in theaters – besides the fact that it was a quality film, people were so excited for it that they turned out in droves to see what they had been a part of in the months preceding the film’s release date.
Viral marketing helps to make a film seem more than a film – it makes it seem like an event. I remember for one of the ‘games’ in the marketing campaign, coordinates were released to reveal a bowling alley in Austin, Texas, where the Joker had placed a package for you inside one of the lockers. As soon as I got those coordinates, I sped to the bowling alley just to realize that I one of SEVERAL people who had showed up. The coordinates were updated literally seconds before I got in my car, and already there were about 20 people at the bowling alley, mad because they got there too late. I had never done that for a movie before – but I was invested in what was going on in Gotham City, and it make “The Dark Knight” that much more real for me.
As much as I love viral marketing, it does have its cons. When “The Dark Knight” was in the last few months before its release, no one had ever seen the type of marketing that they did for the film. That is no longer the case.Ever since the official announcement that “The Dark Knight Rises” was being made, people have been waiting for the viral marketing to begin. We’ve been waiting so intently that we freak out when anything related to the film pops up – whether it is legit or not. For example, let’s look at the staple of the movies: the poster. As soon as “The Dark Knight” was in theaters, posters started popping up for the inevitable third film.
Remember – at this point, the third film had not even been announced, and yet here is a poster. And a good quality poster at that. But even though it looks high quality, it was still a fan made poster. However, people still believed that it was the real thing. It’s easy to write that poster off as fan made because it was released so soon after “The Dark Knight,” there was no way it could be real. In that case, let’s look at this next poster that came out shortly after it was announced that Tom Hardy would be portraying Bane.
A lot of people believed this poster to be the real thing, but it was not. The quality of the poster, however, is just unreal. It really does look like that could be an official poster for “The Dark Knight Rises.”
As I reported in previous posts, a YouTube channel has popped up under the username “The Fire Rises.” No one knows if that channel is a part of the official marketing campaign for the movie. The only way we would 100% know for sure is if either the studio came out and said that it was or wasn’t, or if the advertisers did the same thing. Even though I am impressed with the quality of the fan work in relation to this movie, the constant speculation as to its veracity does the exact opposite of what the whole campaign is supposed to do in the first place – it reminds me that this is just a movie and all the cool stuff happening is just creative marketing campaigns.
I don’t want to have to figure out who is doing the marketing for “The Dark Knight Rises” – I just want to be able to play along and enjoy the campaign as much as I did back in 2007/2008. But because of the influx of fan created content, before anything can be labeled as part of the official marketing for TDKR, we will need to know if it was created by the agency working on the campaign or if it was just a very talented fan. And that is a bummer. Even though all of the fan-made content is basically free advertising for the movie, the advertisers can do a good job on their own. They don’t need our help. So let’s leave the marketing to the pros, shall we?
One last thing that is a knock against viral marketing is the complexity of the campaigns. When the marketing for TDK was in full swing, there were periods of time when so many different things were happening that it was way too difficult to keep up. At one point, actual copies of The Gotham Times newspaper were actually sent out to fans.
Every single business that was advertising in that newspaper had an actual website that you could visit. You could call Gotham City Pizzeria and order dinner (from Domino’s Pizza). As cool as that was, there was so much going on that I am certain there are things that I missed. It became so overwhelming that I gave up trying to see every last detail, and I just stuck to the broad strokes of the campaign. I don’t want to have to do that with TDKR, and I hope the advertisers have learned from their previous campaign. Detail and extensiveness are key components to a successful campaign, but don’t overwhelm your audience! It shouldn’t be a chore to keep up with the marketing for this film – it should be fun.
All of that being said – I am still looking forward to the crazy ride that has only just begun. Will I be able to order another Gotham City pizza this time? Or will something else equally as creative happen? Who knows? I do know one thing – I. Can’t. Wait.
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