Christopher Nolan's publicity team is no stranger to viral marketing. Before the release of The Dark Knight in 2008, they set up Harvey Dent campaign booths to hand out posters and buttons, arranged several nation-wide scavenger hunts, and even created fake phone numbers that fans could call to hear pleas from the Joker’s victims. With The Dark Knight Rises approaching, they are at it again. Fans were instructed to find hundreds of strategically placed graffiti-clues in order to unlock the final trailer one frame at a time. Sound difficult? They did it in a matter of hours. Holy teamwork, Batman!
As a salute to these dedicated Bat-fans, we take a look back at some of the best viral marketing campaigns of recent memory.
6. The Blair Witch Project
While it wasn’t the first film to use the “found footage” gimmick, it's certainly the first to pop up in everyone’s mind. Shot guerilla-style on a miniscule budget, this film became one of the most profitable movies of 1999. With the Internet still in its infancy, most people weren’t sure if it was real or not and had no way to find out for themselves. The filmmakers even created a fake website that corroborated the story, just to keep people guessing. Rumors about the doomed trio were posted on message boards, confirming that they were still missing. Spooky! The mystery persisted... until we saw Heather in that Steak ‘n Shake commercial.
Fans of the ABC drama Lost were kept busy between the 2nd and 3rd season. A campaign of unprecedented complexity called “The Lost Experience” involved devotees in DHARMA sponsored concerts, hunts for Apollo candy bars, and the release of “Bad Twin,” the manuscript by Oceanic 815 passenger and fictional author Gary Troup (an anagram for Purgatory: sigh). Eventually it led fans to the hideout of Alvar Hanso and the revelation that the infamous numbers (4, 8, 15, 16, 23, 42) were integers of The Valenzetti Equation, which predicts the end of mankind. Not many of the plot points made into the show itself but it certainly fleshed out the universe and kept that island (or whatever the heck that place was) on our minds all summer.
4. Snakes On A Plane
Snakes on a Plane sparked a creative revolution in viral marketing: the fans were in charge! Once the title was revealed, people were enthusiastically making fan-trailers, posters, poems, songs, and more. The anticipation was so high that the studio actually went back and shot extra scenes to add more action and humor. It was even rumored that Samuel L. Jackson’s character was just going to be named Sam Jackson, though for some reason the character ended up with the much less awesome name, "Neville Flynn." Still, as far as ironic success goes, Snakes on a Plane reigns supreme.
3. District 9
Anyone living in a major city in August 2009 was bombarded with tons of subliminal ads for District 9. Embracing the segregation theme, anti-aliens posters were popping up at every bus stop, declaring them to be ‘humans only’ zones. Dozens of websites also started appearing, including one run by the aliens complaining about the government’s handling of the situation. This was a campaign that felt very grounded in our reality and carried over well in the documentary-style of the film.
J. J. Abrams, known for his secrecy, teased audiences with a preview that didn’t even reveal the title of the film. We saw New York being attacked by an unknown creature of monstrous proportions, and were only given the release date: 1-18-08. So began a typhoon of speculation: guesses ranged from a new Godzilla movie to a Lost tie-in. Ads for fictional products and puzzling websites followed the teaser, not to mention that each of the film's characters had a MySpace page (hey, it was 2008).
1. The Amazing Spider-Man
In the months leading up to the release of The Amazing Spider-Man, the studio challenged fans to find Peter Parker’s backpack, which contained his science notes, photographs, and even a letter from his parents. More clues led to a secret OsCorp website where a travel itinerary revealed the whereabouts of Richard Parker’s old briefcase (which makes an appearance in the film). Inside the briefcases were folders revealing yet another puzzle that had to be put together. Fans were rewarded for their devotion. The itinerary revealed the locations of free screenings of the actual film days before it was released! That’s enough to make anyone’s Spider-sense tingle.
What viral marketing campaigns have worked on you?