The Dark Knight: Redefining Social Media Marketing

Social Media: It’s the IN thing

Social Media marketing refers to the use of social media to complement an organization’s integrated marketing strategy. With the internet wave there was a new channel for firms to communicate with customers but the advent of social media such as Facebook, Youtube, Twitter has increased both the potential reach and impact that marketing campaigns can have on customers. In every marketing campaign the customers are the target but one critical difference in the case of social media campaigns is that customers are not only the target but also the medium through which the campaign propagates.

The Dark Knight Campaign: What was it about?

An early start

The viral campaign for the 2008 epic film “The Dark Knight”, started 14 months before the actual release of the film. The buzz that it generated has been unparalleled and the campaign is one of the most interactive and successful ones in the history of Hollywood. The producers, Warner Bros. were able to take viral marketing to the new medium of the internet and cultivate that idea further and deeper into the psyche of the fans.

In May 2007, 42 Entertainment began a viral marketing campaign utilizing the film’s “Why So Serious?” tagline with the launch of a website featuring the fictional political campaign of Harvey Dent, with the caption, “I Believe in Harvey Dent.” The site aimed to generate interest among fans by having them try to earn what they wanted to see. On behalf of Warner Bros., 42 Entertainment also established a “vandalized” version of “I Believe in Harvey Dent”, called “I believe in Harvey Dent too,” where e-mails sent by fans slowly removed pixels, revealing the first official image of the Joker. It was ultimately replaced with many “Haha”s and a hidden message that said “see you in December.”

The follow up

In the months leading up to the release an alternate reality game turned more than 10 million unique players towards real time Gotham city, a city where the anti-hero Joker left his marks from buildings to dollar bills and created an army of henchmen across the world. At the world famous event for superhero enthusiasts, ComiCon, players got there first orders from Joker.  After that started a spate of clues over the social media that led enthusiasts to a central place in many cities. Lo and behold, Joker fans had their next clue delivered in the skies through a jet plane.  The result was, Joker was on his way to create his own army. The Gotham city had spilled over from the online arena to the streets.

Engaging the end customer

On December 3rd, 2007, a new page appeared at “” with a hammer game and some teddy bear toys. The toys had addresses of a number of cities around the US on them. The note on the game told people to go to that address and say their name was “Robin Banks” and they’d get something there. It was on a first come first serve basis and each location was a bakery. What they were given was a cake with a phone number written on it. Now here’s the best part: inside the cake was an evidence bag (complete with Gotham City Police printing) that contained a cell phone, a charger, a Joker playing card and a note with instructions.

The note read the following:

“Wow. You really took the cake! Now put the icing on it. Call XXXX immediately from this phone and this phone only. Do not give this phone number to anyone else. Let’s hope your fellow goons come through as well as you. Once all the layers are in place, you’ll all get your just desserts. I’m a man of my word.”

When the person called the number, a lady answered from Rent-a-Clown to thank the caller. Apparently she said she knew who the caller was and then after hanging up, they received a text message. It read:

“Good work, clown! Keep this phone charged and with you at all times. Don’t call me. I will call you … eventually.”

Joker had a real army now with people waiting for his call for their next clues.

Additionally, once all the cakes were handed out, a new page was linked where users could sign-up to receive a free screening pass to see I Am Legend in IMAX which included the first 7-minutes of The Dark Knight that was filmed specifically for IMAX. Another link also revealed the first teaser poster.

On the other side was an army of Harvey Dent, the protagonist. Harvey mobilized Gotham residents (the online phenomenon) by contacting them through mobile phones and emails. Another campaign was started that countered one created for Joker. Citizens marched and rallied in the streets with posters, “I believe in Harvey Dent.”

The campaign reached its climax when all the websites that were related to Gotham city were Jokerized. Fans were led to central locations in major cities through clues where they saw Jokerized version of the Dark Knight trailer and a defaced Bat man sign.

In a nutshell, The Dark Knight viral campaign was a trans media experiment with over 10 million participants in over 75 countries that played across hundreds of web pages, interactive games, mobile phones, print, email, real world events, video and unique collectibles.

How the campaign fared

S no.


Dark Knight’s Performance


Return on investment

The film was created with a budget of $185,000,000. However, through its heavy marketing and buzz it was able to surpass the cost in the opening week itself. Following is the breakdown of the 1stweek earnings.$158,411,483 (USA) (4,366 Screens)
£11,191,824 (UK) (502 Screens)
BRL 7,102,500 (Brazil) (549 Screens)
€1,969,100 (Italy) (616 Screens)
PHP 61,603,157 (Philippines) (92 Screens)
RUR 85,019,263 (Russia) (610 Screens)The film had grossed a whopping $533,316,061 in USA alone by March 2009 making it the second biggest grosser of all time.


Engagement Ratio

The campaign was able to bring fans of all the ages together by creating an interactive online format. The whole city of Gotham was created online with its own Mayor, newspaper and authorities but the citizens were real fans who were made a part of the whole campaign. They could participate in games and contests and win rights to be the proud citizens of the Gotham city or marauders from the Joker army



The timing of the campaign was bang on. It was a campaign that begun 14 months before the actual release and gained intensity as the release date came closer. The main villain, Joker was created into a larger than life character and with the death of Heath Ledger, the focus shifted on immortalising the final and greatest performance of the actor. The trailers were brought out through novel mediums like free trailers on new Nokia phones.


Choice of Social Medium

The Dark Knight Team utilized every possible social media available. As mentioned earlier it tied up with Nokia to bring the first trailers into the market through mobile phones. More than 100 websites relating to various facets of Gotham city were put to use to reach as many people as possible. The producers also employed regular online media like facebook and youtube to promote the film. Among the many facebook pages on the Dark Knight, one has more than 7,710,900 members


Amount of Control

The media agency had extremely high control over the whole campaign. At every point, it required the agency to give additional clues. They always had the potential to take the campaign forward or hold it back as and when required.

What went well?

The campaign managed to divide the fans in three major groups- supporters of Batman, Joker and Harvey Dent. The public could associate themselves with a cause and feel to be a part of something big. Due to this, it was possible to introduce the movie to a demographic that would have otherwise not had an interest. Many people found it hard to believe that others had taken to streets for some fictional character. But none of them could resist asking, who is this Harvey Dent. The agency played a very intelligent mix of curiosity and interactiveness to create the requisite buzz. This was a classic case of the end user itself acting as a channel of propagation. A very important message for brand managers.

–                     Bhasin


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