How Digital Marketing Helped AvatarBreak the Box Officeby Nick Mendoza, February 8, 2010Tagged: augmented reality, avatar, banshee, facebook, interactive trailer, social mediamarketingDo you remember August 21, 2009?Moviegoers in more than 100 IMAX 3-D theaters worldwide watched 16 minutes of footagefrom a new James Cameron movie. That same day, Ubisoft debuted a trailer for avideogame based on the film, and Mattel unveiled action figures inspired by the filmscharacters. A day earlier, the teaser for the very same film broke a record on Apple.comafter beng streamed more than four million times on its first day. August 21 was celebrated as "Avatar Day." Today, it should be remembered as the dawn of the most comprehensive digital marketing campaign ever developed to support a film. Below are the details of four key components of the campaign, each of which are represented by important characters and creatureswithin "Avatar."THE TREE OF SOULS: SOCIAL MEDIAIn the film, the Navi believe that the Tree of Souls, a place where the souls and voices oftheir ancestors rest, was the heart of what connected them to each other. This is also a coreidea with social networks, which are often built from relationships rooted in our past.Social networks are frequently tapped for film marketing, and "Avatar" successfully builtconnections and conversation on Facebook (close to 1.3 million fans), MySpace (close to800,000 friends) and Twitter (over 25,000 followers). According to Sysomos, a social mediaanalytics firm, "Avatar" was the most talked about film on Twitter in January 2010. Some ofthose tweets resulted from a "Tweet to Listen" promo that required fans to send amessage on Twitter in order to listen to music from the film. "Avatars" social media strategyalso branched out to YouTube (close to 11 million video views), Flickr (over 1 million photoviews) and aTypePad blogging community (close to 4,000 members).THE HOMETREE: AVATARS WEBSITE
The immensity and visual richness of the Hometree on Pandora reflects whats been cultivated on the films officialwebsite. Visitors have access to more than the standard fare of trailers, images and background materials. The website offers 14 side-scrolling square boxes that showcase many of the digital initiatives that make this moviestand out. Fans have access to the story, character bios, the music, and wallpaperdownloads; but they also have opportunities to contribute content and showcase theirinterest in the film -- including Pandorapedia, a wiki for all things "Avatar," and the previouslydiscussed blogging community (which includes photo caption contests and timeless topicssuch as "Why Are Avatar Aliens Blue?").And just as humans destroyed the Hometree in pursuit of self-interest and wealth, the filmshomepage had its own destructive moment in mid-August when fans crashed the site whiletrying to secure free tickets for "Avatar Day."THE BANSHEE: THE AIR INTERACTIVE TRAILERAvatars interactive trailer soars over previous movie trailers thanks to its integration of socialmedia feeds, and 11 points of interaction that provide viewers with one-click access to eachcharacter. (Viewers can simply click on a character in the trailer in order to unlock additionalcontent.) The trailer was built using the Adobe AIR platform, which gives developersflexibility. The result is that fans receive a more exciting experience, similar to that offered byBanshee jumping in the film. The trailer is a moving and frequently refreshed gateway to thefilm, seemingly alive and fluid the moment it begins. The trailer also includes three options topurchase tickets.HALLELUJAHMOUNTAINS:AUGMENTEDREALITYIn the film, the gravity-defying HallelujahMountains challengeperceptions, which is alsowhat augmented realitystrives to do by presentingan engaging experiencethat floats in front of the viewers eyes. Mattel created "Avatar" toys that buyers couldactivate and "bring to life" through webcams and special product tags, while Coke Zeroproduced custom cans that opened up the world of Pandora at AVTR.com.The end result is that "Avatar" is now the biggest box office movie of all time (not adjustedfor inflation). The movie has eclipsed $2 billion in total ticket sales, driven largely by 3-Drevenues and international interest. Cameron has once again orchestrated a cinematicmilestone.So did the digital initiatives, awareness drivers and glowing online conversation contribute tothis historic success?
The goal of any theatrical movie marketing campaign is to get people to head to the theater,plunk down $10 to $15 and grab a seat for two-plus hours. On that front, the entire campaignhas been an inredible success. It all started on August 21, 2009, the day that started thecampaign and successfully moved millions of people to experience something new andmesmerizingly blue. Since then, moviegoers have felt compelled to tell their friends to seethe film.As millions flocked to theaters and clumsily put on their 3-D glasses, they helped bring anow-famous Navi phrase to life: Oel ngati kameie ("I see you").Nick Mendoza is the director of digital communications at Zeno Group. He advisesconsumer, entertainment and web companies on digital strategy, distribution andengagement. Hedreamstreams and is the film correspondent for MediaShift. Follow him onTwitter@NickMendoza.