While The Dark Knight was only released this summer, it racked nearly a billion dollars, putting it as the second-highest grossing film behind Titanic. And the main reason the film succeeded as well as it did?
News from the production leaked slowly but surely over the course of development. “Anticipated” didn’t seem to cover it — crowds of makeup-wearing clowns were being photographed in dozens of major cities more than a year before the film’s release. The San Diego Comic Con was the site of one PR stunt regarding the Joker’s mayhem, and it proved to be so popular that servers across the country couldn’t handle the demand.
Indeed, I would argue that The Dark Knight‘s success was due in part to stoking the anticipation of the fans to unbelievable heights, driving them out in droves to see the film again and again and again. Viral marketing and hidden clues worked because they piqued viewer’s interests and — most importantly — kept their minds on the product at hand.
So if a three-hour scavenger hunt spanning the 50 States gave you some teaser images… so be it. Because while the show Lost having pioneered much of this style of “alternate reality” gaming, nobody had ever thought to harness this with the sheer enthusiasm and speculation that only comics fans can muster.
And just six months later, I think Marvel is starting to follow suit.
Yes, there is speculation about a crossover between Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, and the Hulk in the upcoming Avengers film, that’s nothing new. (Although as the latter movies are released, I have no doubts that the hype will multiply exponentially.) No, I’m talking about Marvel is introducing this into their comics proper.
In the March solicitations for Secret Warriors #2, Marvel placed a strange note on the cover. Hm… curiouser and curiouser. If you click on www.agentofnothing.com and type in the password, you’re treated to preview art, free digital comics that sum up the backstory of Nick Fury’s latest commandos, as well as a message from the grizzled old spymaster himself.
And I’ll be honest — I think that if Marvel’s web team was creative about it, this could pull in all sorts of revenue, as well as to patch up tangled continuity for new readers. For example, if you’re trying to plug into Primatech Paper Company‘s secret files — something that the show Heroes did just a little too late in the first season — you could easily start off at a Mom-and-Pop store web site, complete with product placement. You could have fake advertisements, or even pop-ups en route to whatever site you’ve clicked. And I’m sure the Mighty Marvel Marketing Masterminds could think of something even smarter.
But with comics prices rising all over the place, it seems as though any form of revenue would be conducive. And what is best about this method of marketing is it not only could maintain fan loyalty if monetization could level out prices, but could in fact increase readership by bringing us into the mystery, explaining the backstory, and adding fuel to the thing we fans do best: speculate.