Warner Bros., Verizon Link for 'Inception' Marketing Stunt

Droid Phone App, Website, Mobile Game Help Build Buzz for One of Summer's Most-Anticipated Films

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- On Friday, the eyebrow-raising "Inception," a science-fiction film from "Dark Knight" director Christopher Nolan, will interrupt the summer's parade of movie remakes and sequels. But while its studio, Warner Bros. Pictures, is counting on the big-budget thriller to be a big hit, the plotline is decidedly more difficult to explain to the masses than, say, "Batman."

The solution? Keep them guessing.

Warner Bros. has opted to dial up the mystery rather than explain the convoluted story that blends espionage and dreams.

The studio has partnered with Verizon Wireless to create the Mind Crime Prevention app for users of Droid phones. Droid and Droid Incredible users can download an app to get film information, video, music, a crime game and nearby showtimes. Verizon is also hoping to benefit from the movie's hype and all-star billing, which includes

A-listers Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page and Michael Caine, and has backed ads for the movie. Protectyourthoughts.com, the campaign's website, details the partnership and is heavily Verizon-branded. And while Verizon boasts that the app can unlock the movie's secrets both before and after viewing, Warner Bros. and Mr. Nolan are hoping marketing won't give away too much.

As of press time, Warner Bros. marketing hadn't revealed the narrative and is instead focusing on symbols and dreams, and it is targeting fanatics of Mr. Nolan's films.

Viral marketing for the campaign kicked off in December with the reveal of a maze game called "Mind Crime," according to Mr. Nolan's fan site. In June, posters popped up driving audiences to yet another website, What is Dream Share?, an amateurish blog peppered with conspiracies and shout-outs to the movie's other marketing pieces. Warner Bros. did not return calls to comment.

While this program mirrors elements from the much-acclaimed "Why So Serious?" alternate-reality game for "Dark Knight," "Inception" marketing hardly stacks up, said Alex Haas, co-founder of NolanFans.com, via e-mail. The "Dark Knight" campaign, from agency 42 Entertainment, won a Cyber Grand Prix for viral marketing at the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival in 2009. 42 Entertainment was not involved in marketing "Inception."

Warner Bros. also partnered with mobile game SCVNGR, a Foursquare-like app that presents users with challenges such as snapping photos in exchange for badges. SCVNGR built "Inception" challenges at the sites of the five tallest buildings in the top 100 markets, since the movie often uses imagery of massive architectural structures. That way, game players get a taste of the game without revealing too much.

For uploading pictures, users can win "Inception" badges that are each one of three images of themes in the movie, like a spinning top. While the building challenges have thematic relevance to the game, Warner Bros. is also hoping to grab SCVNGR gamers at movie theaters. For moviegoers lining up to see "Inception," SCNGVR designs challenges such as snapping photos to get users to post to social networks in an attempt to turn viewers into vocal advocates. For those at the theater to see another film, SCNVGR is a way to get trailers in front of that audience.

"Warner Bros. is planting virtual flashing billboards at 3,500 movie theaters across the country and inviting [viewers] to experience a bit of 'Inception' and do the challenge to unlock a trailer," said Seth Priebatsch, CEO and founder of SCVNGR.

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