For the four of you who aren’t aware, The Dark Knight is a pretty big deal for a multitude of reasons:
- It was the first movie to film large chunks of the film with IMAX cameras.
- It debuted on the largest number of screens in cinematic history (4,366).
- It also debuted on the largest number of IMAX screens (94) and broke IMAX debut records ($6.2 million).
- It beat the record of most money made from Friday midnight shows ($18.5 million).
- It holds the record for the best opening day/single day ($66.4 million).
- It made a record-shattering $155.3 million its opening weekend.
- It has a 94% Rotten Tomatoes ranking.
- Fandango reported that 64% of the people who have seen The Dark Knight plan on seeing it again in the theater (I’ve seen it twice).
- And, of course, the film marked what could be Heath Ledger’s final performance, which is so engrossing that there is buzz that he could be the seventh person in history to receive a posthumous Oscar acting nomination (and if he were to win, he’d be the second person to win after death).
Whew! That’s a lot of stats I just threw at you. Sorry about that. I just wanted to convey the magnitude of this film’s success. You can argue that plenty of other films have made lots of money, but many of these movies are specifically targeted (e.g., big budget action flicks that skew overwhelmingly male), overly stylized/injected with CG, or just not very good (making money but disappointing movie critics). But how many times do you see a film that’s critically acclaimed make serious bank at the box office, have strong holding power, appeals to various demographics and both genders, and generate substantial awards buzz?
Not very often, which is why when you do have the fortune of catching lightning in a bottle, you better figure out the reason behind its success. I think The Dark Knight had a lot of things going for it, and these positives are all things that can be translated over to your site’s content and marketing strategies.
1. Have a Good Product/Idea
This seems like a no-brainer but is nonetheless often overlooked (ahem, Flooz.com and their “online-only currency”). Batman is a good product, and he always has been. He’s a regular guy (okay, a billionaire, but hey, he has no super powers) who just wants to make his city a better, safer place. We can all relate to that, right? A successful product or service is one that appeals to its audience. We need it. It triggers nostalgia. Makes our lives easier. We identify a fun aspect to it. We feel that we can’t live without it. Great products and services trigger these emotions, this sense of urgent “I need this, and I need this NOW.”
With The Dark Knight, the film built itself around a good product: Batman. Bruce Wayne. Gotham City. Evil villains. Delivering justice. And who finds that appealing? Well, naturally the built-in audience of comic book fans and graphic novel readers–folks who are most familiar with the product. Even people who aren’t hardcore Batman geeks are attracted to the product if they saw previous Batman films and had a positive experience (excluding Batman and Robin, of course–nobody had a positive experience from that rubber nipplefest). When it comes to marketing your product or services, success will come much quicker if you actually have something good to offer.
2. Focus on Stellar Content, Not Necessarily on Dazzling Effects
A lot of big budget summer action flicks try to dazzle you with millions of dollars’ worth of CGI, special effects, gigantic explosions, and bullet-time this and green screen that. However, oftentimes these films over-rely on special effects and use them as their main selling point, and unfortunately special effects can’t replace a poorly written script or a ridiculous plot.
Compare The Dark Knight to Spiderman 3. The third Spidey movie was a CGI barf-o-rama: you had the Sandman, some Venom scenes, Spiderman’s wall climbing–the list goes on and on. And guess what? That movie freakin’ sucked because while everyone was off rendering effects over at ILM, nobody realized that the script was horrendous. The Dark Knight, in comparison, doesn’t build its movie around computer generated images, it uses CG to supplement the story. Many of the big action scenes were even done the good ol’ fashioned way (meaning “no CG effects”), and the non-action scenes hold up on their own because the script is very well-written. As a whole, the movie’s plot is realistic, compelling, entertaining, tragic, and exhilarating.
What about your website? Well, think about it. Do you need intricately developed games and widgets and this mega-huge budget and whoozits and whatsits in order to rank well and drive traffic? Well, no, not necessarily. There are tons of bare bones sites that enjoy mass appeal because they offer great content. Clever ideas like Postcards from Yo Momma, Stuff White People Like, and GoFugYourself attract readers, no matter how simple the layout. So, the next time you see a flashy (or Flash-y) website that has impressive-looking features, don’t instantly jump out of your chair and exclaim, “I need that too!” You don’t. A cheaper option is good copy, plain and simple. Start with that. Good copy is indexable, too!
3. Be Topical
This applies more to the content side of things, though it can go for products as well (I don’t see too many beeper product sites popping up right now…unlike what the Beeper King says, technology isn’t cyclical). The Dark Knight addresses some real-life concerns that are plaguing many Americans today, such as terrorism. Likewise, if your site can offer a product or some content that ties in with current events or the latest trends, it can capitalize on what’s popular nowadays. This doesn’t necessarily mean, however, that you should exploit an opportunity…which leads me to my next point…
4. Don’t Be Shameless
Obviously, the studio and producers behind The Dark Knight could have gone the shameless route and capitalized on Heath Ledger’s sudden death by touting it as “His final performance!” and milking his passing for all it’s worth. They didn’t, though. The marketing department approached the subject very delicately, consulting with Ledger’s family on how to appropriately market the film. Some movie posters displaying the Joker were removed or edited/blurred, and it seemed like the studio did an admirable job of focusing on promoting the film as a whole rather than highlighting an unfortunate incident.
Your website can have controversial content or take a ballsy stance on an issue in order to attract links. As you’re likely aware, being the “villain” is a good link bait tactic. But are you willing to compromise your integrity in order to gain some exposure? Do you want to hurt your company’s reputation? Is it worth it in the long run? Would you rather have users say “Oh, that site has an awesome blog” and “I love your company’s products,” or do you want to hear “Yeah, I know that blogger. He’s a real asshole” and “I’m not familiar with their products, but I know that the CEO is a jerk”?
5. Widen the Appeal
Think about how you can widen your site’s appeal. Obviously, many sites have a target demographic. Imagine, however, if some sites and companies tried to open up to other audiences. Do guys like pink iPods and red Dell laptops? Some might, but the colors are probably more appealing to women. Think of little tweaks you can make to your site or products in order to widen their appeal. The Dark Knight skewed 48% female. Pretty damn good for a comic book movie, right? How’d it attract the fairer sex? It could be a number of factors. Maybe these ladies were comic book nerds too. Or maybe they were curious about the buzz gathering around the film and wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Or maybe it’s because Christian Bale and Heath Ledger are both, well, hot, and have also appeared in dramas that are appealing to women, and thus they’ve built up a female fanbase. Either way, the movie clearly did something right because people young and old, male and female, geek and non-geek flocked to the theaters in droves.
6. Don’t Insult Your Userbase
The Dark Knight didn’t try to dumb down the plot or pull any Fantastic 4 bullshit. Its plot was dark and often depressing and tragic. There was no happy ending. And you know what? Audiences seemed okay with that. They applauded the film’s realism and appreciated the fact that “comic book movie” doesn’t have to equate to bubblegum bright colors, bad guys being vanquished, and good guys saving the day and getting the gal. The movie didn’t insult the audience’s intelligence, and you shouldn’t insult your users’, either. That’s not to say you shouldn’t provide good, intuitive usability; rather, you should offer quality products and content that your users expect.
7. Don’t Neglect Your Early Adopters
One thing that irked me about the X-Men movies (let’s not even talk about the embarrassment known as “the Brett Ratner fiasco”) was that many character origins and original plot points from the comic books were ignored or changed entirely for the movie. Tweaks like these irk comic book purists and early adopters. The Dark Knight kept the character’s integral points intact and as a result kept die-hard Batman fans happy.
Think about your early adopters. What about your site, its products, or its content do these folks love? What features do they adore? Why have they stuck with you for so long? You should appreciate your long-term users and customers because if it weren’t for them, you wouldn’t be where you are today. Listen to their feedback and suggestions. Deliver (within reason, of course) things that meet or exceed their expectations. Acknowledge and thank them every so often, for they are your die-hard fans, and there’s nothing worse than a lover scorned.
8. Be Smart with Your Launches/Product Debuts
It wouldn’t have been smart if The Dark Knight debuted in theaters in January or February. It’s a huge budget Hollywood blockbuster–why would it be released during the slowest box office time of the year? Big budget action flicks and other movies that aim to rake in the benjamins are typically released over the summer, which is when box office earnings are at their highest.
Similarly, think about appropriate times to debut new products or tool launches. Maybe you should wait for a major industry conference so you can unveil a new tool or feature in front of thousands of people. If you have a great new product coming out that would make for a perfect gift, think about promoting it during the holiday shopping season. Got some romantic products? Unveil them leading up to Valentine’s Day. Have a great blog post? Don’t publish it on a Friday night! If you think about it, there are lots of ideal times to debut new material.
9. Make Your Ads Stand Out
The Dark Knight did a pretty damn good job creating compelling movie posters that pop out and attract attention. They also had some really great movie trailers and teasers, and they even aired the first seven minutes of the film at IMAX theaters before other attractions. The studios’ efforts paid off: these marketing tactics generated buzz and created anticipation for the film. Likewise, think about how you can make your ads stand out. If you have banner or display ads, brainstorm how they can stand out among the other ads being displayed. Use different colors or font sizes or a compelling graphic. For your organic and paid search results, consider your title tags, meta descriptions, and ad copy. How will you get searchers to click through? What can you do to make yourself stand out among your competitors?
10. Handle Negative Press Promptly and Professionally
Shortly after the film was released, there was stunning news about how Christian Bale was arrested for allegedly verbally assaulting his mother (apparently you can get arrested in the UK for “verbal” assault, which is pretty frickin’ odd). This scandal could have potentially hurt the movie’s positive buzz and Bale’s squeaky-clean reputation, but the film and the actor’s publicists handled the situation well. Bale cooperated with authorities and official statements were made to the press, and there was no ugly behavior, screaming arguments, or diva demands.
What if someone gives your product a negative review? Or if a blogger writes a nasty post about your site? Negative press can be handled appropriately if you act fast and diffuse the situation. Acknowledge the blogger or the user’s concerns and see if there’s some way you can extract some constructive criticism. Kill the meanies with kindness and let them know that you appreciate the feedback. If you take the higher ground, you’ll do wonders for your reputation.