Produsage: Dark Knight or Joker?

Gotham City isn’t the only community plagued by this superhero battle.

Like any Batman fan, the latest installment of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight in 2008 was for me personally, highly anticipated for many reasons. For you it may have been the excitement in seeing the sequel to Batman Begins from 2005, or the chilling and captivating, posthumous performance of Heath Ledgers’ Joker, but my own personal motive was to witness an effective collaborative viral marketing campaign come together, where the roller coaster storyline was a mere bonus.

Before you read on I recommend you check this video link of whysoserious.

About a year before the release of The Dark Knight, at San-Diego’s International Comic-Con event, thousands of tweaked “Why So Serious?” one-dollar bills appeared everywhere. This “money” linked participants to online website, where map co-ordinates (for San-Diego Zoo) and a bomb was counting down. The response online was instantaneous. When participants turned up at 10am the next morning with Wi-Fi devices in hand, they were sent on an online and offline scavenger hunt to be recruited as the Joker’s next henchman.

From face painting to girl scouts selling cookies, to sky-writing, balloons and mobile phones in baked cakes, online and offline users worked together to crack the clues. The hopeful “Jokers” used countless online and offline media outlets – posting photos to their Flickr accounts in real time, tagging blog entries on Digg, accessing Google Earth to find coordinates, both professional and personal blogs and forums running hot by online participants and using photo, email and post across the United States. While one (un)lucky man received the ultimate prize, hundreds received movie props, and the other collaborators helped unlock a highly anticipated teaser trailer viewed by over two million. Users not only participated, but also helped produce a highly effective and collaborative viral marketing campaign.

Joking about open participation

So what does all this have to do with produsage? Apart from being a unique and entrancing viral marketing campaign by 42 Entertainment, its success is solely based on participation of content creation communities (Bruns 2008, 23).  Forums with participants from all over the world scrambled to locate a San-Diego local who could be on the ground at the event. Originally, when users participated in a website revolving around the politician character, Harvey Dent (Two Face), they we to capture images to remove pixels and reveal the Joker character and clues. Different online communities with a general interest around The Dark Knight and the Batman Franchise were networked together by user-led contributions (images of captured letters). The promotion of open participation and communal evaluation of revealing the next clue outlines the significance of Bruns’ (2009, 24) principle of inclusivity. Social networks of fan forums, movie networks, comic lovers extended the impact of promotion available to specific communities.

Joker: all round anarchist

The nature of Ledger’s Joker is centered on anarchist ideologies, where the world knows no boundaries or rules. While the fundamentals of the campaign did not follow any traditional format, Why So Serious respected Ledgers passing and toned down the focus on the Joker, and moved to Harvey Dent (Two Face). The rebellious and sadistic nature of content reiterated a loose hierarchy of control as discussed by Bruns (2009, 26).  Virtual communities such as Second Life have taken this concept further determining leadership through a degree of community merit known by Bruns (2009, 26) as Ad hoc meritocracies.

Produsage is no Joking matter

It’s true: produsage is no Joking matter. While this campaign encompasses elements of produsage, it merely offers a light at the end of a very dark tunnel named ‘advertising through social networking’. Produsage outcomes as artefacts rather than products present a dilemmas for advertising agencies wishing to make the transition and target often-unreachable online communities. How will advertisers survive and generate revenue when communities are no longer hierarchal and corporate driven? Advertising has in the past always meant achieving sales. As the medium changes will this philosophy, or will the creative conditions change from traditional methods to interactive, engaging mediums?

Who is part of your posse? is a free ticketing service, which encompasses peer-to-peer networking, offering a percentage of generated revenue to the user by selling tickets to events to their social network of friends. If you’ve ever been the one to organize tickets for a bunch of friends, and spent numerous pain-staking hours organizing times and money and numbers, you’ll agree that by the end of it all you feel like you deserve a reward – the best thing is, this website does just that.  You win, the company wins, but does the advertiser win? Not necessarily. The emergence of Pro-Ams particularly through websites such as eBay and Amazon, have blurred the lines between professional and amateur. For advertisers this may mean, no matter what medium, users will always fall into some form of hierarchy or are agencies to become non-existent as Pro-Ams generate part of their revenue?

Perhaps this produsage flurry is something advertisers should concentrate on at a community ‘bottom-up’ approach by getting consumers involved in decision-making. Or perhaps the way to the produsers’ heart is by turning an effortless objective on a captivating audience by asking a simple question like, why so serious? But wait a minute, they’ve already done that.. HaHAhA


4 Responses to Produsage: Dark Knight or Joker?

  1. emcgill says:

    Wow! This makes for really interesting reading. I have never really thought of produsage like this. I have always thought of it as a pretty dry subject. As a public relations student, I was interested in your exploration of using produsage as a promotion tool and how it got fans emersed in the spirit of the legend. As produsage is fostered in communities where people share similar interests, it would be worthwhile to see how many people were genuine fans and how many simply tagged along for the ride -the thrill of the chase. You mention that the traditional vertical hierarchy of corporations is evolving into something much more horizontal online and advertisers should adapt through a ‘bottom-up’ approach to reach online target markets. I believe that this is a valid statement and that creative conditions will encourage advertising to become more interactive and engaging for online target markets. However, I also believe that traditional forms of advertising will also prevail as there are still many people engaged with mainstream media – I think there is a happy medium. In regards to your comment about advertising being a means to achieving sales, I think this is a philosophy that will always be – what’s the point in advertising if you’re not trying to sell? Although communities may not be hierarchical and corporate driven, they will still need to purchase products, services and entertainment.

    • Rebecca Fernando says:

      Thanks for your feedback emcgill!
      RE: your comment on credibility of fans involved in The Dark Knight Campaign – as 42 Entertainment direct marketed fan communities and Comic-Con fans of Batman (based on online communities), I think other participants ‘along for the ride’ would have only benefited in promotion and creating hype. Bruns (2008, 26) suggests the operation of a looser heterarchy enables multiple teams of participants to work simultaneously in “a variety of possibly opposing directions”, which I believed benefited the promotion of The Dark Knight. For a PR student it is important to remember the timing of Comic-Con in the US: it is close to the end of Summer Holidays and just before the beginning of school, and the role that played in attendance of participants in the Comic-Con stunt.

  2. mdujardin says:

    I think you have done a fantastic job with this blog! Well done!!

    You wrote “Advertising has in the past always meant achieving sales. As the medium changes will this philosophy, or will the creative conditions change from traditional methods to interactive, engaging mediums?”

    I personally believe that the two conditions will integrate to become the new standard of advertising. Obviously companies hire an advertising firm to persuade or intrigue the audience enough to make a purchase and thus achieve sales. However, I believe the format of advertising practices will change as consumers interact more and more with the brand online. As you wrote, the traditional advertising methods are changing as illustrated through the Dark Knight campaign, and are changing towards more engaging mediums. This is what I believe will be the foundation of all advertising and marketing today. Consumer s are going online, if you check out my blog on citizen journalism, you will see that a consumer’s most trusted media source is word-of-mouth, hence a recommendation from fellow consumers.

    Did you know that the first thing our age group do when we are looking into purchasing a product is that we go online to check it out? Should we like it and think someone else would enjoy it too, then we pass it on. In doing so, we as consumers are not only promoting the product for free, but we are interacting together. This form of advertising is open participation at its best.

    I definitely agree with your idea that advertisers should concentrate on at a community ‘bottom-up’ approach by getting consumers involved in decision-making. In particular, interactivity is becoming an integral part of the advertising industry and getting consumers involved. However, I do not think that the role of advertisers will reduce to nothing as produsers take over internet. This is because consumers sometimes need to be pushed in a certain direction in order to interact and engage with a particular campaign or promotion.

    Once again, congrats on a fantastic blog, I found it really interesting and you took a really cool angle. I look forward to your next blog.

  3. kjs201 says:

    As a fellow advertising student I found your blog entry on produsage particularly interesting. I feel people often underestimate the benefits and opportunities which produsage provides for those within the advertising field. The Dark Knight campaign exemplifies the effectiveness of user participation. I recall the extraordinary hype leading up to the release of the film, both online and offline the buzz about the The Dark Knight was immense. At the time I was not fully aware of the intricate nature of the entire Dark Knight campaign. This case proves that harnessing fan communities with interactive activities online and off as was done at the event at Comic-con leads to a flow on effect of produsage and fan involvement in the promotion of the film through blogs etc. The bottom-up approach to advertising is certainly effective, I concur with emcgill that traditional forms of advertising are not entirely outdated yet. However I personally would like to see a continued move away from traditional advertising methods, towards more interactive and engaging approaches. There is no doubt that the effectiveness of viral advertising stems from the user involvement which it promotes. The viewer no longer feels like a walking dollar sign. Instead they are able develop a relationship or personal interest in/with the product; this sense of ownership acts as an incentive for the target audience to produse more content – further promoting the product/idea.

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