This weekend, Warner Brothers put into play the latest part of their continuing viral marketing program for the Batman Begins sequel, The Dark Knight. Springing out of a website promoting Harvey Dent, to be portrayed by Aaron Eckhardt in the film, as a candidate for District Attorney of Gotham City, several cities were due to receive visits from a street team handing out “Harvey Dent For DA” bumper stickers, buttons and t-shirts. Since I already have a set of Harvey Dent election buttons handed out as promotional material for the 1989 Batman film, I thought it would be fun to get a corresponding set for the new film. Checking the I Believe In Harvey Dent website, I see that Philadelphia is scheduled to be visited on Saturday. Just a short train ride into Center City from my suburban home, I make my plans to head into the city.
The first of the three “campaign stops” for Philadelphia was scheduled for 11 o’clock at the corner of 17th and Chestnut Streets. Arriving about a half an hour early, I duck into the downtown mall on the corner to grab a drink at its food court. Coming back out fifteen minutes or so later, I discover that there are already about 20 people on the corner, waiting for the van to show. That number doubles by the time the event is scheduled to start. There are lots of Batman t-shirts on display, designs ranging from the 1960s television series logo to the metallic bat emblem from Batman Begins. A couple of guys sport homemade “I believe in Harvey Dent” t-shirts and some others have homemade signs, all utilizing artwork from the website.
A few minutes tick by, the group making small talk while checking their watches occasionally. Traffic coming down Chestnut and across 17th is steady, certainly not congested to cause much or any of a delay. By 11:15, someone makes the first joke about voting for the other guy. I crack the seemingly-obligatory “I hate when politicians are two-faced” joke just to get it out of the way. A white van pulls up half a block up and several people start to unload boxes out of it, but they are painters arriving to work on a storefront.
As time continues to slide by, I strive to recall a story I half read online yesterday concerning a stop in Chicago that was shut down by the police about three minutes after it started. Could Warners have pulled the plug, not wanting its folks to get into numerous legal entanglements with local law enforcement? Visions of what happened to the marketing street crew in Boston working on the Aqua Teen Hunger Force movie bubble up in my mind.
As the morning stretches onward, several people stop by intermittently to ask if we are registered to vote. A few fans start talking with them about how they plan on voting for Harvey Dent for District Attorney. Confused faces and hasty retreats soon follow.
It is around noon when someone thinks they see the Harvey Dent van turn the corner one block up Chestnut onto 18th street. Everyone presses to the curb, knowing Philadelphia’s layout of one-way streets means that the van would be coming back down 17th towards the intersection. No van materializes. Someone calls a friend and has them check the website to see if there was a last minute schedule change. There is none. The fans are on time, the marketing team is not.
Interestingly, in over the hour that has passed since the event was scheduled to begin, no one has left. Everyone has stayed on the corner, casually chatting with friends and strangers alike. I think as it slipped into the second hour most probably thought as I did, that I’ve been here this long, I might as well see it through to the end. I wonder aloud if perhaps the schedule online had meant that they would appear sometime between 11 and 1. “Like a cable installer,” someone quips.
At 12:30, I join a couple of other fans in a walk around the block to see if the van and its crew had set up shop a block away on 18th Street where it was believed the van had turned. I doubt that its there, but go along because I think the walk will serve as a break from all the standing around and waiting. The trip takes ten minutes and yields no results, though we did spy a white van parked in an alleyway and joked that that was where they had been hiding.
With just a few minutes to 1pm, it is suddenly over. Someone has received a cell phone call from their friend over on Temple University’s campus saying that the Harvey Dent van is over there, all set up and handing out swag. A collective groan goes up from the crowd. The Temple University stop was supposed to happen from 2 to 4 in the afternoon. Some people head to their cars to try and catch the van over there. A few people ask for directions. I walk down toward City Hall and the train station to catch a regional rail train back home.
Sure it was a disappointing morning. This marketing stunt was supposed to generate excitement for the film among fans, not disappointment. But despite the van’s no-show, I’m sure every one of us who were on the corner will still be lined up opening day to see the film. Or as one guy said to me, “What? I’m only going to see it seven times instead of ten?”