The Story of The Dark Knight and Its Brethren

Back in the spring of 2007, like other Batman fans who loved Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, I was eagerly awaiting his follow-up, The Dark Knight. When the “I Believe in Harvey Dent” website went live in May, I was there with others.

However, not long after the original website went live, some digitally scrawled graffiti all over it, in a style highly reminiscent of Batman’s arch-nemesis, The Joker. On this website you were invited to enter an email address, with no indication of what would happen when you did.

So, of course, I entered my email address. I received an email with a code. In returning to the website, I was invited to enter the code. And, as many had done before me, this led to a pixel being removed from the picture…until…

The first image, official or otherwise, of Heath Ledger as The Joker appeared.

This series of events was important for two reasons. First, the casting of Ledger and the portrayal of The Joker had been questioned in the fan community since the knowledge of what Nolan was planning first became known. Fans, including myself, were concerned what a more realistic take on The Joker would mean for how he was represented. Having us play a game by collectively inputting codes to reveal the picture was a way to tantalize us and have us be involved in the canon of the film — two things fans really like.

Second, this was the beginning of what would become a massive alternate reality game organized by 42 Entertainment to market the upcoming sequel. By itself, this marketing campaign was significant for its size and scope, flawlessly mixing real world students and scavenger hunts with online games and websites to promote or represent, as realistic, fictional businesses, people and organizations. However, this campaign also represents a rise in similar marketing campaigns that in some way attempt to co-opt the rise in how active fans and audiences can be due to the Internet.

Along with The Dark Knight, I followed several other campaigns: Leverage, Cloverfield, Heroes, Lost, and still more. I’ve been collecting information and screenshots of the activities whenever I can. You can find the collection of screenshots here:

Examples of Gameplay Marketing

I’ve written several papers on this topic, with one being published by the International Journal of Communication.

For me, the researcher, these new gameplay marketing campaigns are interesting for the innovation in advertising they are, as well as changes in how Hollywood is conceptualizing the position of the fan and the audience in the production and marketing of television shows and motion pictures.

For me, the fan, these campaigns give me the chance to engage with the material I love in all new ways, and to feel, if fleetingly and wrongly, that I in some way matter to bring what I love to air or to keep it circulating.

The big question is: do these marketing campaigns work?

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