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October 17, 2011

The Dark Knight is the White Knight of Public Relations

Filed under: Public Relations Posts — Carlie @ 4:13 am

When The Dark Knight opened in theatres on July 18, 2008, it was immediately a huge success. Within its first weekend, it had sold out in theatres across North America and earned almost two hundred million dollars. In total, its run in theatres made over one billion dollars, making it the tenth highest grossing movie of all time.


Part of The Dark Knight’s success is, of course, the fact that Batman has been an immensely popular brand for decades. (Perhaps the topic of a future blog post?) Initially created in 1940 as a comic book character, he has been the subject of graphic novels, TV shows and many different films before 2008. As well, the movie received rave reviews and was meant to be, like 2005’s Batman Begins, a grittier, scarier retelling of the Caped Crusader tale.


Another part of the movie’s success, though, was the public relations campaign that took place before the release. Event planners and media relations did a huge amount of work to promote the movie to a wide variety of fans and the effectiveness of their campaign was easy to see when fans flocked to the midnight release at thousands of theatres worldwide.


Public relations and media personnel for The Dark Knight created an enormous online campaign to promote the film. One of the first attempts to raise the public’s awareness of the movie was related to the movie’s website; it encouraged people to actively demonstrate their anticipation of the movie. The first treat for fans was the revelation of the first images of Heath Ledger in his Joker makeup and costume. The release of this photo was a multi-step process:
1) The initial movie website was set up in May 2007. It featured little more than the Bat-symbol and a link to another related website about the fictional election of Gotham City’s new district attorney, Harvey Dent, played by Aaron Eckhart.
2) Not long after these initial sites became active, comic book stores in the United States found that Joker cards from traditional decks of playing cards had been scattered around their stores, inscribed with, “I believe in Harvey Dent, too!” This strange message lead fans to find a new website of the same title. This third website featured a photo of Harvey Dent smeared with clown makeup.
3) When a certain number of people had registered with the newest website, the prize was revealed: for just a few days, visitors were able to see the first official photos of the Joker’s latest incarnation.
4) After a few days, the image was removed and replaced with another simple message: “See you in December”
According to an author at a website for movie marketing The Dark Knight nailed it with this campaign and the way that they continued to use their websites to drum up media and hype. They say, “Getting a look at a new trailer or whatever becomes dependent on their activity or at least their alertness. They *need* to participate or the goodies will go away. At least that’s the perception that’s created through such efforts.”


Another stunt involved the distribution of fake newspapers around various public events. “The Gotham Times” featured stories that promoted the film and was released on American Thanksgiving weekend, 2007. Headlines like “City at War – Batman Saves Entire Family” helped to foreshadow hinted about features and plot points in the movie. On the newspaper’s website, fans could also click on the subscription information to see The Joker’s version of the news in another Internet attraction for the film.


We’ve learned in our Public Relations classes that, compared to traditional marketing and advertising, public relations can often be quite cheap. In many cases, getting a good buzz about your product or event doesn’t have to be terribly expensive and can still produce amazing results.  Obviously, in the case of some of the stunts, features, and large-scale events (like fake kidnappings) for The Dark Knight, this was probably not the case. However, the smaller projects targeting different markets and audiences helped to make sure that the movie went on to become one of the most successful movies of all time.


The third part of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises, will be released in theatres in the summer of 2012. With less than a year left to go, fans can hopefully expect that the PR team for this latest thriller is at work planning new and exciting promotions for the latest set of villains – Cat Woman and Bane – and for another series of events that will set anticipation at its highest level.


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