The Dark Knight: Smart Marketing or Mobile Disenfranchisement?

My motivation for doing things is sometimes random and, frankly, a little twisted. Case in point: I’m not really a fan of superheroes or comics, but I found it impossible to ignore the hype surrounding the release of “The Dark Knight.”

I opted for a Saturday afternoon showing, in part to satisfy my crush on Christian Bale (which I’ve had since “Newsies” and “Swing Kids”), and to see how many true fans would come to opening weekend dressed in full character. I wasn’t disappointment with the performance of Bale or the crew of super fans three rows back and to my left. Although the little munchkin in his Batman PJs and face mask could have probably been left home with a sitter.

There was another reason I saw the movie. Movie studios and record labels were among the first to embrace mobile programs as extensions of prerelease promotion, and well-hyped movies are a great source of fodder for cataloguing mobile content, applications, and text programs that result from big-budget marketing partnerships between studios and brands. “The Dark Knight” didn’t disappoint here, either. For weeks now, the connection between Verizon, Nokia, and “The Dark Knight” has become more evident.

Mobile content generates billions of dollars each year, and some say it’s one of the biggest reasons Apple got into the device game in the first place. Unsurprisingly, then, one of the biggest marketing tie-ins of this movie centers on the leading domestic wireless carrier and a handset manufacturer looking to increase share in the U.S.

Just over a month before the caped crusader premiered, Nokia announced the launch of the 6205 “Dark Knight” limited-edition phone. While seemingly a standard flip device, it comes fully loaded with a trailer, Batman logo, and embedded content features users can download. While fanboys can appreciate the special packaging and box in which the handset comes, I doubt this would ever be considered a collector’s item. Further, a carrier contract is required for activation.

The benefit to Nokia isn’t necessarily in sales of the 6205, but in the high-profile shots of a yet-to-be released touch handset. If you see the movie, keep your eyes open for a dramatic scene in which a device exchanges hands (there are, in fact, a few of these moments, but you’ll know the one when you see it).

Verizon users are also the only ones who can experience and download any of the content available at Verizon’s Batman site. It should have come as no surprise when I saw the ad in Us Weekly — the Verizon branding was all over it. But I wasn’t prepared for the lame text from a random short code that I got back after sending in my keyword: “Sorry, but the Grab game for a Batman Pack is not available to Cingular customers.” No video, wallpapers, committing of my friends to the asylum, contest eligibility, or tones and ring backs for me.

While the Nokia-Verizon marketing tie-in smacks us non-Verizon customers in the face, it’s not all bad for Batman fans who aren’t on that carrier network. Warner Brothers did a decent job of establishing other relationships that will allow “The Dark Knight” mobile content to exist among non-Verizon customers.

The Glu catalogue of assets is a good example of globally reaching content centered on the movie. It includes games, voice tones, wallpapers, animated screensavers, and music tones (I found evidence of the distribution deal several layers deep on my CrackBerry).

IPhone users can get a new application through the AppStore that frankly reminds me of why I fear clowns. It combined a Joker-esque makeup application via the multi-touch screen with a photo taken from the iPhone’s camera. The end result is really kind of a mess, but entertaining nonetheless, especially if you like to invoke nightmares of clowns upon others.

Take the time to experience all the Batman mobile content you can. There’s a bit of a double-edged sword in here, and the question remains: is the Verizon-Nokia “Dark Knight” tie-in evidence of smart marketing or simply a turnoff for those being left out?

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