Editorials,  Movies/Entertainment

Does Viral Marketing Guarantee Cinematic Success?

We’ve seen how well the viral marketing for The Dark Knight was executed.  The movie was the highest grossing film of 2008 and now sits at 3nd on the All Time Box Office Chart (under both of Cameron’s uber successful films), and for those of you who still didn’t notice, it raked in over 1 billion dollars when you add international box office receipts.

TDK was already going to be a cash cow. It was the much-anticipated sequel to Batman Begins, which was done so well that the fans could count on a bigger, better sequel. So it certainly didn’t need more help than that to sell it. I think the news about the death of Heath Ledger caught the attention of people who probably weren’t planning on seeing the film, so that got more people in the theaters than originally expected. But why the viral marketing? Usually its done to try to reach an audience who isn’t in the know. I could see them doing so for the first one, but with the success of Begins their work was done.

No matter what kind of marketing or advertising you use, the bottom line is that it should create buzz and awareness about the film. The Dark Knight’s marketing campaign, I think, crossed over from marketing to a global social experiment. It’s amazing to look at the lengths the studio went through to create it alone, but the fan participation on top of all their efforts was unbelievable. I don’t know if anyone could have predicted the success level but an act like that will be nearly impossible to top. I imagine few studios can pull off varied and lengthy viral marketing since its kind above and beyond the standard Trailer/TV-Spot/Poster marketing. You probably won’t see anything from Regency Pictures or Dimension but Warner Brothers is one of the titans of the film world. They have biggest checkbooks and deeeeep pockets.

Dreamworks’ attempts were small but effective when they were releasing a viral campaign for Tropic Thunder. They produced some early buzz about the film with the fake websites and trailers for Robert Downey Jr.’s character, among others.  That film went on to do very well, and again probably would have done so without. In terms of lower profile films, a campaign was launched for the Jared Hess movie Gentlemen Broncos and the, at the time unknown District 9 (and I think everyone can recall the unexpected popularity of that underdog film). Also, Warner Brothers did it again for The Watchmen, and it too was a successful file although, unlike TDK, it wasn’t as fan-dependent. Across the board, all viral efforts are aimed at trying to erase the line between film and reality. Some of it is brilliant because it gets you closer to the film then you would otherwise by just going to the theater and coming home. That’s what, I think, got the fan response up so high for The Dark Knight.

So this year the studios have campaigns for Tron:Legacy, Iron Man 2 and an obscure one for Christopher Nolan’s Inception. Ultimately viral marketing puts a few more people in the seats opening night and so far the track record proves it’s a winning formula. But do studios do it for a film they aren’t sure will succeed to help its chances, or do they only attempt it when they know they have a sure thing? I guess all we can do it wait to see what bombs and then check if their ‘fake’ website has been taken down after opening weekend.

What do you think? Does anyone participate in viral campaigns? Are they worth it or just wastes of time? Further, would you see the movie regardless of a successful viral campaign?


    • Marc

      Sometimes it can be cool or even worth the time. I’m getting a kick out of the Tron campaign…waiting on my sweet Encom badge…anyday now. Really helps get you excited about the film as an event rather than just a “movie”.

  • Dreher Bear (...Where The Buffalo Roam)

    I don’t think it guarantees cinematic success, but it definitely helps get the word out. A perfect example of viral marketing was Cloverfield. It also works with a certain group of people (people who are always on the internet, etc) and not the mainstream audience.

    • Marc

      True, it is new and exciting enough to get people who don’t know about the film involved…however I’m thinking that virals may start giving away as much as trailers are starting to, so I’m cautious about everything now.