On the same day that I stumbled across a 14-year-old article about comic book writer Mark Millar in the archives of the paper I work for, the man in question reveals he has created a viral marketing campaign to generate interest in his new project, Kick-Ass.
Of course, the technique is nothing new. As far back as 1998, lost-in-the-woods horror flick The Blair Witch Project parlayed a $60,000 outlay into a $248 million global phenomenon after the official site pretended the events in the film actually happened.
In fact, a viral campaign has become positively de rigeur for any major blockbuster. Millar, however, seems to be the first person to have brought the technique to the world of comic books.
The video, posted on YouTube and called New York Superhero Caught on Camera, now has over 29,000 hits and tells the story of a college student who was attacked by four unknown assailants, while more than 15 people stood and watched. He gets a severe beating that only stops when a “self-proclaimed local superhero” leaps to his defence and keeps the thugs at bay until the police arrive.
Looking back at the story Millar cooperated with for the Airdrie & Coatbridge Advertiser back in August 1993, it struck me that not only had he come a long way, but so had the way his publicity machine rolled.
With the dawn of Web 2.0 and the flourishing social networks and online communities that comic book fans in particular haunt, it made sense for creators like Millar to have an online presence. Indeed, his MillarWorld site has now blossomed from being a way to promote his work into a hotbed for industry news and rumour.
Promoting comics using sophisticated viral tools sharpened in the movie business is something entirely new though. It makes perfect sense though as viral marketing benefits from using social networks as a platform, and comic book fans are a dedicated online community already linked by the likes of MySpace, Bebo and Facebook.
Starting threads, embedding videos and nurturing rumours means that someone like Millar can, at least initially, control the action, reach his target audience and then watch it all snowball exponentially as geeks across the world add links, forward webpages and even use the video themselves.
Reading the piece from 1993 that I linked to at the top of the page, it all makes what we hacks do seem a little passe. How I long for the days when a journo could end an article on superheroes with a “Holy smoke – krack, whudd, Ka-thunnnch!!!”