Feelin' kinda viralStudios have been using the Internet to market their films for years now, and I don't just mean buying banner ads on movie websites. The web is now the place to go for trailers, to the point where when I see a trailer I've never seen before in an actual movie theatre, it makes me feel faintly nostalgic. But more and more studios are using viral marketing and sly web videos to promote their movies. The Dark Knight had a pretty long and involved web marketing campaign, from a fake Harvey Dent website to an incredibly complex, nationwide scavenger hunt last year. All of this stuff was pretty secondary to the main marketing push; it seemed to be more about generating early buzz with Internet movie geeks like yours truly (most of these sites started popping up more than a year ago), and some of the gags were genuinely clever – a guy from one website I frequent was sent a Joker-themed cake and a phone number, and when he called the number, a cellphone inside the cake started ringing, and I think there was a voicemail from the Joker on it or something. Not really much of a point to it, really, other than it was pretty cool.
A few months back someone forwarded me the following viral video:
It's certainly crazy, and amusing, and it seemed real when I first saw it (I pride myself on having a pretty good BS detector, but I've fallen for more than my share of fishy web videos; I'm also quite good at self-deception), but I later found out, weeks later, that it was apparently a bit of viral marketing to promote Wanted (which features an amusing office freakout as a plot point). It's clever and all, but it's hard to not consider it at least a partial failure, because at no point is the connection between the video and Wanted made clear. As much as it would have wrecked the reality the clip was trying to present, a title card at the end saying "Wanted: In Theatres Soon" would have, you know, actually promoted the film.
The next clip does a much better job of making clear the connection to the film it's promoting, in this case the Vin Diesel sci-fi action flick Babylon A.D., which opens next weekend. I'm actually pretty excited to see it, as I have a big soft spot for stylishly-visualized sci-fi movies (and as a secret fan of Diesel's Riddick movies, I evidently have a big soft spot for stylishly-visualized sci-fi movies starring Vin Diesel). It's also more effective because it seems almost like the clip is making fun of Diesel's tough-guy persona, and while I have no idea if Diesel himself seen the clip or approves of it, the charm of its lightly self-mocking tone (while it not-so-lightly mocks this summer's blockbuster crop) makes up for what the actual jokes lack in cleverness or subtlety:
It's clear Hollywood (well, technically Babylon A.D. is French) is still working out the kinks in using viral web marketing to promote movies. And while I don't think anyone's trying to point to a year-old web campaign as any real contributor to The Dark Knight's insane box-office haul, all the above campaigns show the studios' growing understanding of online fandom since New Line mistook a bunch of geeks ironic anticipation of Snakes On A Plane on Internet message boards based on its silly title as a pop-culture-phenomenon-in-waiting. That's evolution, baby.