The arrival of Watchmen was always going to generate buzz. On March 6 the film will hit more than 6,000 screens worldwide, with all the major markets opening within the month (the last to open, Japan, is only three weeks behind North America). With a launch of this magnitude in such a tight timescale, how have Warner Bros and Paramount Pictures International attempted to engage a wider audience than the fan-boy faithful’
‘We always knew we had a strong fanbase locked,’ says Jon Anderson, executive vice-president of marketing at PPI, on the adaptation of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ seminal graphic novel. ‘Our challenge was to take Watchmen to a broader audience by giving them a greater understanding about the film.’
Watchmen is set in an alternative 1985 where Richard Nixon is still president, the Cold War is held at bay by the presence of the nuclear superhuman Dr Manhattan, and costumed vigilantes have been outlawed for nearly 10 years.
Anderson says that, through director Zack Snyder’s vision, the film works both as an action blockbuster while retaining the complexity and subtlety of the graphic novel - which should attract a more sophisticated audience.
The studios came up with a strategy to target those people whose interest was piqued by the superhero action elements and then bring them into the elaborate alternative history of the Watchmen world, while still satisfying a knowledgeable fanbase.
Given the nature of Watchmen’s worldwide release, the online campaign gained greater significance and the scale needed to be tailored accordingly. With the interactive branch of multiplatform brand marketing agency Picture Production Company, PPI created a network to distribute its marketing content.
While the film has a traditional website at WatchmenMovie.com, it also has four companion sites. The most significant is TheNewFrontiersman.net, which mimics an investigative journal that features in the graphic novel. This site acts as the central viral hub for the film, providing a place for the campaign to distribute content from the Watchmen world.
Anderson says Snyder’s unwillingness to compromise his vision of Watchmen has been carried through into the marketing: ‘It was important for us and for Zack for the marketing content to be authentic, to have substance.’
One strand of this content was a series of four short videos released online sequentially in the weeks leading to Watchmen’s release. Each video highlights and informs a key aspect of the Watchmen world, explaining to those unaware while elaborating for those in the know. The first, which shows a segment from a 1970s current affairs programme celebrating 10 years of Dr Manhattan’s existence, has received nearly 500,000 hits on The New Frontiersman’s YouTube channel since its release a month ago.
In addition to these videos, The New Frontiersman also ‘declassifies’ documents and files. ‘There are over 45 very realistic articles that we will release over the eight-week campaign, which means something that adds to the Watchmen history is released almost every day,’ says PPI’s director of interactive marketing, Heath Tyldesley. These documents extend the Watchmen universe for the loyal fanbase, while giving clues to non-fans about the film’s content.
The distribution of the marketing content is designed to bring non-fans into the fold. PPI’s seeding strategy selected influential websites and key online syndication points. ‘We didn’t want people hunting the internet for Watchmen,’ says Tyldesley. So the campaign targeted social networking sites such as MySpace, FriendFeed and Facebook, weblog sites such as Twitter and photo-hosting sites such as Flickr, using feeds that brought new background material to users the moment it became available.
‘We’ve pinpointed all the major internet portals that our audience, the 16-24 age group, uses,’ says Tyldesley, ‘and it’s this transmedia background storytelling that has helped Watchmen cross from the core fans to a wider audience.’
Another of the websites (I-Watch-The-Watchmen.com) provides a ‘social media toolkit’, allowing site users access to internet accessories such as ‘widgets’ that count down to the film’s launch, iPhone content, and banners, profile pictures and downloads that can be used on fans’ own website pages. And the content can be shared over 22 social media networks with one click.
Given the size of the film’s launch, the strategy for Watchmen has been to leave no stone unturned - if you use the internet to any great degree then the chances are you will be one of those watching the Watchmen.