Transmedia research ‘The Dark knight’  one of the many websites set up for the Dark Knight transmedia narrative.

Why So Serious was by far the most incredible movie marketing .  It extended the story of the Batman reboot, bridged the gap between the two films, and most importantly, made millions feel they were actually citizens of Gotham City.

The Dark Knight poured in a record 155 million domestically in its opening weekend. It  reached the 300 million dollar benchmark after just 10 days.

But over a year before any of this, Warner Bros. collaborated with 42 Entertainment to launch an ARG (alternate reality game), so extensive, so compelling, that it made viral marketing efforts from Cloverfield and The Blair Witch Project look like child’s play.

A good video explaining the events of the campaign can be viewed here

Participants of the game were able to look at all movie posters, trailers, photos, and movie clips before anyone else. Yes, this was partly to market the movie, but it was also to market it in such way which made it the fans’ movie. The ARG represents a shift in power from the commerciality of Batman to the originality with which the fans love. It is the loyal fans who built the world of Gotham, and through the ARG, they were able to engage with it on their own the terms.

information above sourced at—tr.html

It started on May 11, 2007 with the release of the official Dark Knight website. A week later, clicking on the bat symbol brought a user to the Harvey Dent campaign website, which simply contained Aaron Eckart’s picture and the slogan, “I believe in Harvey Dent.”

Sure enough, when users went to, they found a Jokerized Harvey Dent image.

Participants typed in their email address and  received their first exposure to Heath Ledger’s Joker.

Now begins a scavenger hunt, the onliner audience work together to solve the clues. Clues are distributed throughout many cities in America and so they need one another to retrieve all the different clues and puzzles.

This kind of collective intelligence brings a new component to “gaming” in ARGs. No one fan could have traveled the country and found all the clues; the only way to continue the game was to work together. This fascinates me. Most games set in real-time either involve competition (Halo, Madden) or fantasy (Second Life, WOW). But players in ARGs don’t usually compete against each other, and they don’t play through an avatar. Instead, such games are driven by the challenge of puzzles, the collaboration necessary to solve them, and the reward of story information.

This type of interactivity is not only the essence of viral marketing; it’s also the heart of transmedia storytelling. When a studio provides mysteries and answers through cross media platforms, fans essentially become willing participants in marketing the movie. They embark on a puzzle solving quest, craving more information and comparing notes with each other to heighten the experience of the story world. The question remains however, are such fans participating in this hunting and gathering adventure on their own terms, or are they just puppets who are carefully guided through a pre-determined story for advertising purposes?

At last year’s Comic Con, the Joker distributed “Jokerized” one dollar bills pointing people to, this was a Joker costume website which told users to go to a certain location at a certain time. Hundreds of people followed the instructions. After the crowd assembled, a phone number appeared: This number was written in the sky above by an airplane.

Those who called the number overheard a hostage message, solidifying the player as part of Joker’s crew and initiating the scavenger hunt. The San Diego participants collaborated with friends online, who would import the clues to the WhySoSerious website. In return, the ‘ground team’ received Joker masks and the online players got a first look at the teaser trailer for the movie.

Here in the second phase of the ARG, we see a level of immersion building. Fans joining Joker’s army were able to show friends their picture on the Rent-a-clown website, a fake clown rental company within the whysoserious game. Interestingly, participants in the ARG immersed themselves in the world of Gotham by working for the villain, a role not only much more realistic in the context of Gotham (Batman works alone) but also, arguably, more fun as well.

To give you an idea of just how many fans were participating in this game, take a look at When the Joker asked people to take photographs of themselves in clown makeup by major national landmarks, hundreds of people uploaded their submissions.

In return, they obtained…well…the Joker’s email address. That’s right: Imagine the Joker checking his email. Maybe even updating his Facebook page.

In all seriousness however, the Joker never broke out of character. Players had to complete a personality test and an aptitude testbefore they could work for him. They had to solve online puzzles and prove themselves. After all this, the fact that the Joker had an email address was completely plausible. If you’re a super villain, you have to stay connected to your cronies nationwide somehow, right?

The Joker even tested his hard core fans by launching a real life carnival themed scavenger hunt. He placed packages at 22 different addresses around America and other international countries. Players who solved the clues and reached the packages first received a cake with a Joker cell phone inside.

Calling a number then got them free IMAX movie tickets to see the Dark Knight’s opening 5 minutes before IMAX screenings of I Am Legend. As I’ve said before, whether it’s free movie tickets or interacting with the Joker over email, the Dark Knight ARG recognized the importance of giving back to its hard core fans. And the fans gave back to franchise, telling their friends about their discoveries and hyping the movie.

The ARGs second set of clues came through a newspaper called The Gotham Times, (which was sent to all the RoryDeathKiss participants). Examining the fictional newspaper led to a plethora of websites, which either furthered the stories in the Times through puzzles and clues or provided backstory on Harvey Dent, Barman, and Gotham City in their efforts to clean up the city.

The focus around the Joker in the ARG fit the movie quite well. The Joker is so manipulative and conniving that in some ways, the fact that he instills chaos into real people makes sense. Players will do anything for answers (in this case information about the movie) and the Joker seems to exploit this within the ARG by sending participants around to solve complex puzzles, make phone calls, and go on real life scavenger hunts. In this way, the Joker demonstrates his power and his psychotic tendencies way before the film’s premiere–he has complete control over the players and the game. (it’s all part of the plan!)


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