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The Dark Knight Media Case Study



“One of the most interactive movie campaigns ever hatched by Hollywood.”

-Los Angeles Times

"Why So Serious?" was designed as a 360° alternate reality experience that played out over 15 months leading up to the release of The Dark Knight. Spilling out over a multitude of different platforms, this deep immersive campaign recruited the audience to become real citizens of Gotham City. Over 11 million unique participants in over 75 countries fueled the rise of the Joker as henchmen, campaigned for Harvey Dent to get elected as District Attorney, and even took the law into their own hands by becoming copycat Batman vigilantes. From calling phone numbers written in the sky, to hunting down GPS coordinates to find mobile phones baked inside of birthday cakes, "Why So Serious?" was an experience like no other. As these fans collectively scoured the globe in search of clues, their incredible passion generated billions of impressions in the press and blogosphere setting a new benchmark for immersive entertainment.

Introduction/Background Information

Why so serious? In order to make a film successful is it necessary to launch a very serious campaign incorporating the entire audience? It certainly paid off for 42 Entertainment; they got very serious with a viral campaign ready to launch the new Batman movie in 2008. The Dark Knight, one of the most anticipated films prior to the campaign was set to launch in the summer of 2008. The film featured well-known actors such as, Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart and Morgan Freeman. All of these characters were ready to make the movie a huge hit for the summer blockbusters of 2008. Unfortunately, none of these actors actually played a role in the marketing campaign created by 42 Entertainment. The initial advertising and marketing of the campaign was brilliant. 42 Entertainment had the idea to target the audience in the film, TV, and comic book media world involved. The company also targeted a worldwide event known as, Comic-Con. The convention took place in San Diego, where 42 Entertainment created and started The Dark Knight campaign. The situation was a key aspect in creating such an effective campaign. The campaign used cross media convergence, which is using more than one outlet to reach an audience.

Situational Analysis

The Dark Knight viral campaign was very strategic. Prior to the movie being released 42 Entertainment came up with a brilliant marketing idea. The campaign used cross media convergence, which is using more than one outlet to reach an audience. All of which allowed the audience to really get involved in feel as though the city of Gotham needed each individual participating.  They did this by introducing ARG (Alternate Reality Gaming), which took the different media platforms to create the campaign’s real world experience. The campaign used the Internet, newspapers, and gave the audience tokens, cell phones, and other devices to help decode the game. 42 Entertainment created over 30 websites online to lead the participants to different locations and clues. They also created fictional newspapers such as, The Gotham Times, which included more facts about what was occurring. During Comic-Con is when the participants were able take part in interactive experiences. They had the opportunity to physically vote for Harvey Dent, take part in the different campaigns, and receive phone calls from the characters themselves. An astonishing 10 million players worldwide were involved. Even though Comic Con was in San Diego, 42 Entertainment was successful in targeting an audience worldwide.


The entire campaign did not happen all at once, which was planned out very strategically. The campaign started off by creating Gotham city where the Joker started building his army. A website called WhySoSerious.com launched featuring fake newspapers, events and daily updates. This led to sending a large crowd of fans to the San Diego Comic-Con where they participated in various activities leading them to new information. Soon after that there were other events instructing fans to find clues located in major cities across the United States. Once all the clues were found they led to the reveal of a new photo of the Joker and an audio clip of him saying “And tonight, you’re gonna break your one rule.” Once the fans had completed the series of events they were led to another website. The website was where they could submit photos of themselves dressed up as the Joker for an incentive. Those fans were then sent a copy of the fictional newspaper, which was called ‘The Gotham Times’.


42 Entertainment’s execution for the campaign was done in an impressive manner.  By targeting Comic-Con they were able to attract the right audience that were interested in films, comic books, and superheroes. These fans jumped all over the idea to take part in a real life video game. This made the campaign successful from the start. The campaign was focused on not only the fictional reality game itself but also getting fans to pick sides between the Joker and Harvey Dent. As the campaign continued, fans became more passionate about fighting for their side and making sure their ideas were heard. Due to the success of the marketing campaign the film became the top grossing film of 2008. The movie earnings were about $533,345,358 alone in North America and a further $469,700,000 in other countries. This resulted in a worldwide total of $1,003,045,358. To date it is the ‘thirteenth highest-grossing film of all time’. 42 Entertainment certainly deserved a pat on the back after executing one of the most successful viral campaigns of all time.


The marketing campaign was very valuable to Warner Brothers, the production company. Even when faced with the death of Heath Ledger they were still able to be successful. A main focus of the movie was Ledger’s character, Joker, which caused a lot of fans to be disheartened. PR week published their thoughts right after the incident, “Still, no one suggests that the campaign will remain utterly unaffected. All eyes are on WB for the time being, and while most agree that the studio has thus far handled the situation well, with a great deal of class, it remains under immense pressure not to offend audiences. While this will not likely mean a drastic departure from the original plan, it will require the studio to avoid images or sound clips of the Joker that overtly reference death.” At the time, the continuing success of the marketing campaign was in question. Even under the stress, 42 Entertainment managed to not upset any of the fans over Ledger’s death.

Other Examples of Campaigns

In looking at another campaign that faced a similar issue in marketing a campaign for a movie was Paramount. Paramount was responsible for the marketing campaign for Iron Man, which was set to come out May 2, 2008, just a couple months prior to The Dark Knight. It only makes sense that Iron Man and The Dark Knight would be a competitor for the same audience since. Both were superhero films being released in the spring/summer of 2008. Yet, they were both able to achieve great box office ratings. Each advertising agency used different but effective techniques to grab their target audience. Paramount took more of a traditional approach to their advertising campaign. They also attended Comic-Con but only to show trailers and have people dressed up like Iron Man. There was no alternate reality gaming like The Dark Knight campaign. Another way that the Iron Man film helped steal the show was the release date. They kicked of the summer of 2008 blockbuster movies by releasing Iron Man on May 2nd. The first big film of the summer was made, Iron Man and then set the tone for all the other films being released later that summer. Through out the process, Paramount used a more orthodox way of advertising but still managed to be very successful

The Ant Farm

Another advertising agency that successfully marketed a product was Ant Farm. Modern Warfare, the video game that can be played on multiple consoles (Xbox 360, PlayStation and Wii) was marketed in a different but successful way. The executive creator Rob Troy at the advertising agency The Ant Farm, described the thinking behind the campaign in a panel at a game marketing conference. The ad agency, which has created successful advertisements before, had been working with Call of Duty since 2003. The game already had a huge buzz because of the popularity of its 2007 version, Call of Duty 4, the predecessor to Modern Warfare. The Ant Farm went on to say sometimes it is a challenge to recreate campaigns for sequels. The goal of the marketing campaign was to spread that this version would be even a better experience. On the release day Activision Blizzard had a 30-second TV commercial that showed video highlights of the game to hip-hop music by Eminem. The music choice was important because it gave the commercial an upbeat feeling.  The game got great reactions and was able to become known worldwide.

Current Information

After the release of the movie there is little buzz left in the viral marketing campaign. This is understandable considering the movie has already made their money for the movie, and another movie had come out since then. Many of the websites have been shut down, and are no longer being update. 42 Entertainment did update one of the websites they created, and showed the death of the Joker. This marked the end of the viral marketing campaign created by 42 Entertainment.

Our Analysis

Researching this campaign was interesting. Although all of us saw the Dark Knight, the campaign was still unfamiliar. After researching the campaign it makes sense why it had so much success in the marketing and advertising industries. To be able to reach a large audience is key, but then to further involve them makes it even better. The audience played a role in helping 42 Entertainment create national and worldwide buzz about the Dark Knight. The Dark Knight blew up the box office numbers and 42 Entertainment deserves recognition. All in all, we all understand why the Dark Knight did so well back in 2008 and how a viral campaign can be successful. In our opinion, we believe that other products should follow in its’ footsteps, and create an interactive marketing campaign.


  • Targeted a large audience
  • Involved the audience in the campaign. (Hands On)
  • Creative campaign, a virtual game was made up for the audience to learn more about Dark Knight
  • Informed Audience about two main characters in the movie: Harvey Dent and the Joker
  • Created a lot of hype or anticipation for the movie.
  • A lot of other movies were coming out in the summer of 2008.
  • There were no movie trailers to show some insight on the movie itself
  • Only targeted Comic Con event initially.
  • Get the audience and participants excited to go buy movie tickets.
  • Create buzz surrounding the movie on social media outlets.
  • Enhanced marketing and advertising. Got participants to market their team. (Dent vs. Joker)
  • Iron Man, another superhero movie being released months before the Dark Knight
  • Heath Ledger’s death because it brought up questions surrounding the campaign.
  • Whether or not 42 Entertainment can replicate a campaign like this again. Possibly for the next Batman movie.


Works Cited

Quenqua, Douglas. “Ledger Death Clouds ‘Knight Marketing'” ProQuest, 4 Feb. 2008. Web. 23 July 2014.

“The Secret Behind ‘The Dark Knight’ Viral Campaign.” ProQuest, 28 July 2008. Web. 23 July 2014.

Takashi, Dean. “How a Smart Marketing Campaign Turned Modern Warfare 2 into a Monster Hit.” VentureBeat. N.p., 2 Apr. 2010. Web. 23 July 2014.

“WHY SO SERIOUS?” 42 Entertainment. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 July 2014.

“Will Movie’s Marketing Change after Star’s Death?” ProQuest, 26 Jan. 2008. Web. 23 July 2014.

Young, Anthony. “Iron Man Vs. The Dark Knight.” EbscoHost, 28 July 2008. Web. 23 July 2014.

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