How and why are viral marketing campaigns like The Dark Night Rises and social media helping to save Hollywood?
The core of the film industry has always been the cinema, but in the last thirty years VHS, DVDs and Blu-rays have radically changed the way entertainment is consumed in our houses. However, it has only been in recent years that the history of film has witnessed the major turning point: the Internet. Piracy and the rising appeal of on demand internet streaming services like Netflix (in April 2013 it reached 36.3 million subscribers) helped to create the “staying home” trend and this is definitely noticeable in the box office performance over the last decade-plus. For example:
“the list of 2013 movie flops is a sad roll call of would-be blockbusters. In the last month alone, five films that cost more than $100 million to produce have opened at a figure equal to less than one-fourth of their budget.”
From the “all-time domestic gross chart” on Box Office Mojo, the film industry does not seem in decline as of the top 50 films of all-time, 40 of them were released during the 21st century. However, adjusting for inflation completely changes the picture as
“No movie this century has even come close to making as much money as “The Sound Of Music” or “The Ten Commandments.”
Therefore, the Internet is definitely considered the main issue for the apparent decline of the film industry, however as the producer Alison Owen said at the BFI London Film Festival, it is crazy to say that the Internet is going to kill off movies:
“The internet is a container, not a substance. It should be helpful to our business, it is a giant machine designed to give people what they want.”
Ironically, the Internet has not only become helpful for the film industry but it is arguable that it is actually keeping it alive through viral marketing campaigns. A Viral Marketing Campaign is exactly what Alison Owen said: “giving people what they want.” In this investigation I will be looking at how Viral Marketing Campaigns like The Dark Knight are helping to save the film industry. This strategy is a type of marketing that focuses on spreading information and opinions about a product, mainly by using unconventional means such as social networks, websites and emails. Hollywood is using Viral Marketing through Social Media to change the way films create buzz and in this way keeping the interest alive. Creating buzz before the release of the film is becoming even more important than the movie itself, the anticipation is the event and it is now the best way to attract people to go to the cinema. Films like “The Dark Knight Rises”, “The Hunger Games”, “Cloverfield” and “The Blair Witch Project” are the evidence that viral marketing campaigns are effective and a contributing factor in the boost of the box office (Cloverfield, with a budget of just $25 millions, earned $170,764,026 at the box office.)
However, it is important to consider that all these films have got a common factor: a young, similar target audience. The question is: would a viral marketing campaign have had the same success if done for a romantic comedy like Hope Springs targeted to an older audience?
One of the reasons that make viral marketing campaigns so efficient is because of their hyper-realistic nature. This post-modern term is generally defined as a condition in which what is real and what is fiction are blended together so that there is no real distinction, becoming escapism from everyday life and social tensions as stated by Dyer's Utopian Solutions Theory. The producers of “The Dark Night Rises” effectively used Dyer's theory to create the world of Gotham City before the audience knew about the content of the actual film. In 2011 the official website launched, introducing one of the most successful viral marketing campaigns of all the time, very similar to the one used for The Dark Knight, its prequel. The website streamed an encrypted audio file, described by the users enchanting. Users then decrypted the audio to the Twitter hashtag #TheFireRises, and Warner Bros removed a pixel prom the webpage for every tweet using the hashtags, in order to reveal the first official image of Bane. This marketing strategy can be defined as an Alternate Reality Game (ARG), which consists in an interactive narrative that uses the real world as a platform, often involving a cross media convergence and game elements to tell a story that may affect participants' ideas or actions.
Telling a story is one of the main elements for the success of a Viral Campaign, and Roland Barthes' narrative codes play a key role in the creation of it. The Hermeneutic Code, which is the way a story avoids telling the truth or revealing all the facts in order to drop clues and create a mystery, has definitely been helpful in creating the hype for the film Cloverfield. The trailer did not the name the film and the producers helped in keeping the audience interested by constantly changing the title, for instance; 1-18-08 (USA) (promotional title) Cheese (USA) (fake working title) Clover (USA) (fake working title) Monstrous (USA) (promotional title) Slusho (USA) (fake working title) Untitled J.J. Abrams Project (USA) (working title). These enigma codes were used by the producers to generate curiosity: what genre was the film alluding to? And why was the footage shown in the trailer more like a home-made product rather than a slick Hollywood production?
The home-made footage already used for “The Blair Witch Project?” is a technique called Astroturfing, which is a marketing strategy that creates the impression of a spontaneous, grassroots behavior. While astroturfing enables marketing companies to rapidly reach a potential enourmous audience, the goal of such campaign is to disguise their efforts. This is arguably designed to combat the turn against organised institutional commercialisation by young audiences, which supports the reception theory, meaning that the audience might reject the codes of the producers because they feel too controlled.
...(download the rest of the essay above)