An amazing example of viral marketing: The Dark Knight

List of accolades received by The Dark Knight


Edgy, attention grabbing and relatively low-cost: these are some of the words to describe the e-marketing campaign that is hailed as one of the best of all time, the launch of the movie The Dark Knight.

Instead of recounting the exact details of the marketing campaign (as they are pretty extensive), I’m going to give a quick overview of the highlights and then jump into my personal insight on the campaign. But in case you want more information, be sure to check out the links below 🙂

Summary of the campaign:

According to Wiki, there were two main publicity stunts that the campaign centred on, one of which was the ‘I BELIEVE IN HARVEY DENT’ political campaign. The marketing team created the website featuring a big picture of Harvey Dent. It was a realistic political campaign that allowed people to listen to the fictitious politician’s promises to give Gotham City back to the people, and eventually vote for him. The website also encouraged people to send in comments and visit the campaign bus, or ‘Dentmobiles,’ and rewarded the loyal fans with free swag like stickers and t-shirts.

The parallel viral marketing campaign that incited an intense following was the website and pranks organized by the movie’s villain, the Joker. This campaign very literally made me squeal just by researching it online. It’s so breathtakingly exciting! The marketing team headed the Joker’s campaign by firstly creating a mock website:, and a space to submit emails. Every time an e-mail was submitted, a pixel of the big Harvey Dent picture on the website would fall off to reveal the Joker’s face, and the words Ha ha ha. The silliness continued with the e-mail circulation of Gotham City Times and the Joker’s version, the Ha Ha Times. After thoroughly amusing fans and introducing them to the complex world of Gotham City, they got fans hooked into the movie by recruiting them for the Joker’s army. Fans across America were instructed go to a certain local bakery or bowling alley and pick up a cake or a bowling ball with a cell phone, charger, and a message inside. The phone would play a message from the Joker, instructing them to hang tight and wait for him to contact them for their next mission.

There are so many things RIGHT about this campaign! I don’t even know where  to start, so let’s just dive into what I think are the primary success factors of this campaign.

One of the hardest things for an e-marketer to accomplish is the switch over from online activity to activity in the real world, but The Dark Knight campaign was able to do this on a massive scale. After getting people completely addicted to their websites by having them either watch the progress of Harvey Dent’s campaign or the Joker’s antics, the marketing team called the consumers to action by promising them free things as a reward for their loyalty. After winning the fans’ love, they pretty much guaranteed their seats in movie theatres.

In addition, people simply love to be tricked. People love a good, cheeky rebellion and the Joker’s widescale pranks appealed to this part of the human psyche. Nothing is more hypnotizing than watching someone do what we would never dare, so it’s no wonder people were glued to the Joker’s website,waiting for his next big stunt. Moreover, the campaign was successful at promoting the movie through all the free publicity from every person who got free stuff from the campaign, took off a pixel from the face of Harvey Dent, picked up a cake or were constantly refreshing the Joker’s page for the discovery of new clues. Fans couldn’t stop themselves from sharing the news with their friends on Facebook, Twitter and blogs. Popularizing the simple phrases of the movie before it even comes out was effective in making people find out what is behind the phrase by going to see the movie.

But let’s delve even deeper into this campaign. Creating realistic aspects of the pseudo-real world of Gotham City taps into that thing the Matrix and Harry Potter did for the world: Makes people question reality and seek signs that prove the reality of the world. This is where I’m sure psychology majors would have a leg up on me here, but I think the campaign succeeded at crafting a very real fictional world that people would hope is real. There are a lot of people in the world who do not, or do not want to accept that reality is exactly what we see in our everyday life. As such, the possibility of another realistic world that lives and breathes in secret is something that captivates the imagination of many individuals of all ages, and would drive people to follow a campaign like this with borderline obsession.

And finally, what I loved most about this campaign is the fact that it went beyond the  goal of generating buzz about the movie, but sought to create product ambassadors – people who are absolutely dedicated to the movie, endorse it for free amongst their friends and give it lots of their money happily. Apple is the only other company I can think of off the top of my head that created such a dedicated cult following that if they were to stop all marketing efforts tomorrow, their fans would carry it on for them quite happily. The Dark Knight campaign made the phrase ‘Why so serious?’ the coolest catchphrase of 2008, the Joker the choice Halloween costume, and the repopularized of the Batman brand.

My informative sources:

Marketingly yours,

Shiv 🙂


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