2012 has come and passed, and we are all still alive. What? You say it’s only 2009? But that doesn’t make sense. Thus goes the viral campaign for Roland Emmerich’s epic disaster film. Just like with other time-sensitive movies with viral (Cloverfield, District 9), 2012 had a complex viral campaign with multiple storylines interwoven, leading up to a particular moment. The problem always seems to be that the actual time is up for debate.
This is only one of the many nitpicks I have for an otherwise proficient viral campaign. Before going into what may have been wrong or weak, its important to know this is definitely in the upper echelon of film ARGs. I’d have to say that only 42 Entertainment’s campaign for The Dark Knight was more impressive, but they had the help of a movie that was overly anticipated. 2012, on the other hand, had been pushed back from its summer slot, plus Emmerich’s resume hasn’t really been impressive since the mid-90s.
Why was this campaign so effective? First of all, it had a good pace despite the film being pushed back several months. The viral started with The Institute of Human Continuity, which was just a basic site for an organization preparing for the scientifically-proven destruction we’ll see in 2012. You could enter their lottery to be survivor, and everything seemed fine for a while. On the side we had Charlie Frost as the stereotypical end-of-days prophet, and things were humming along nicely. Then we started to see an uptick in activity in August, and finally we were hit hard with the full force of the campaign in September all the way until the week of the film’s release. All in all, everything was timed perfectly.
The content of the viral also helped make it successful. Sure we had the usual narrative like in Cloverfield and District 9, but we also multiple contests with prizes that even included a trip to Cancun. There were dead drops, where you could pick up packages and decode information, revealing a conspiracy with the aforementioned IHC. It was really quite intricate and expansive, spanning real world, the web, and social networking. ARG players actually got to do some legwork and reap the rewards, making the whole experience that much more fun.
Lastly, the viral worked because it added to the film a few things it needed. First of all, buzz. Usually viral campaigns are used to build on buzz that already exists for a film, but the buzz wasn’t that great on 2012 originally. It was the campaign that created excitement. Also, the viral created more of a plot than the film would be able to develop within itself. We got a lot of background about the conspiracy that plays a role in the film, and the audience realized the film isn’t just about the world blowing up.
However, one of the problems of the viral is that very same thing. It gives away a good chunk of the plot in a way I’ve never seen before. It’s nice to see how strongly the campaign and film connect, but when you give away a central plot twist, it kind of kills the movie a bit. There were also some dating issues with the viral. Everything seems to be taking place in 2009, but the film makes reference to one of the last viral events taking place in 2012. As I mentioned to start off this review, you have to take it all with a grain of salt.
My only other complaint was the constant reminders that the campaign was tied to the film. First of all, we had the whole “experience” moniker that was also present for District 9. Every viral website was tagged as part of the “2012 Experience’. Now, I know there have been issues with people believing the world really will end in 2012, and seeing these sites might confuse them, but it still takes some of the fun out of it. We also were reminded its all a game thanks to their need to constantly recap what’s happened so far. We had in-world explanations, an official guide, and even a video.
Still, overall this was a greatly complex and interesting campaign that hit us by surprise and got us even more interested in the film than we otherwise would have been.
Final Grade: B+