Produsage: Dark Knight or Joker?

April 30, 2009

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