Do you remember August 21, 2009?
Moviegoers in more than 100 IMAX 3-D theaters worldwide watched 16 minutes of footage from a new James Cameron movie. That same day, Ubisoft debuted a trailer for a videogame based on the film, and Mattel unveiled action figures inspired by the film’s characters. A day earlier, the teaser for the very same film broke a record on Apple.com after 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 creatures within “Avatar.”
The Tree of Souls: Social Media
In the film, the Na’vi believe that the Tree of Souls, a place where the souls and voices of their ancestors rest, was the heart of what connected them to each other. This is also a core idea with social networks, which are often built from relationships rooted in our past.
Social networks are frequently tapped for film marketing, and “Avatar” successfully built connections and conversation on Facebook (close to 1.3 million fans), MySpace (close to 800,000 friends) and Twitter (over 25,000 followers). According to Sysomos, a social media analytics firm, “Avatar” was the most talked about film on Twitter in January 2010. Some of those tweets resulted from a “Tweet to Listen” promo that required fans to send a message on Twitter in order to listen to music from the film. “Avatar’s” social media strategy also branched out to YouTube (close to 11 million video views), Flickr (over 1 million photo views) and a TypePad blogging community (close to 4,000 members).
The Hometree: Avatar’s Website
The immensity and visual richness of the Hometree on Pandora reflects what’s been cultivated on the film’s official website. 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 movie stand out. Fans have access to the story, character bios, the music, and wallpaper downloads; but they also have opportunities to contribute content and showcase their interest in the film — including Pandorapedia, a wiki for all things “Avatar,” and the previously discussed blogging community (which includes photo caption contests and timeless topics such as “Why Are Avatar Aliens Blue?”).
And just as humans destroyed the Hometree in pursuit of self-interest and wealth, the film’s homepage had its own destructive moment in mid-August when fans crashed the site while trying to secure free tickets for “Avatar Day.”
The Banshee: The AIR Interactive Trailer
Avatar’s interactive trailer soars over previous movie trailers thanks to its integration of social media feeds, and 11 points of interaction that provide viewers with one-click access to each character. (Viewers can simply click on a character in the trailer in order to unlock additional content.) The trailer was built using the Adobe AIR platform, which gives developers flexibility. The result is that fans receive a more exciting experience, similar to that offered by Banshee jumping in the film. The trailer is a moving and frequently refreshed gateway to the film, seemingly alive and fluid the moment it begins. The trailer also includes three options to purchase tickets.
Hallelujah Mountains: Augmented Reality
In the film, the gravity-defying Hallelujah Mountains challenge perceptions, which is also what augmented reality strives to do by presenting an engaging experience that floats in front of the viewer’s eyes. Mattel created “Avatar” toys that buyers could activate and “bring to life” through webcams and special product tags, while Coke Zero produced 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 adjusted for inflation). The movie has eclipsed $2 billion in total ticket sales, driven largely by 3-D revenues and international interest. Cameron has once again orchestrated a cinematic milestone.
So did the digital initiatives, awareness drivers and glowing online conversation contribute to this 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 campaign has been an inredible success. It all started on August 21, 2009, the day that started the campaign and successfully moved millions of people to experience something new and mesmerizingly blue. Since then, moviegoers have felt compelled to tell their friends to see the film.
As millions flocked to theaters and clumsily put on their 3-D glasses, they helped bring a now-famous Na’vi phrase to life: Oel ngati kameie (“I see you”).
Nick Mendoza is the director of digital communications at Zeno Group. He advises consumer, entertainment and web companies on digital strategy, distribution and engagement. He dreamstreams and is the film correspondent for MediaShift. Follow him on Twitter @NickMendoza.