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Highest grossing film of all time. Why?

Updated on September 10, 2011

Bums on seats


James Cameron's $2,777,450,902 grossing epic Avatar owes no small part of its success to its comprehensive marketing campaign with budget of $150,000,000 for promotion (over half the money spent on the actual film itself). Consisting of a number of practised and proved techniques mixed with some new approaches. Considering the huge amount of money that Avatar has grossed and its massive international profile, it must have had an effective marketing campaign.

The first noticeable aspect of Avatars marketing campaign was in fact its brevity. The first feature of Avatars marketing campaign was an initial lack of a campaign at all, everything apart from the name and James Cameron’s management where kept under wraps. Intentionally or no this secrecy did much to generate the initial interest in the film; it sparked people’s curiosity making them seek out information. In this manner they increased the likelihood that people would be exposed to Avatar advertisements by provoking them to seek out information themselves. By reducing the total advertisement time they heightened the focus of the promotion, forming it into a smaller more concentrated burst differing from the traditionally long ‘run up’ techniques more often employed by blockbuster films.

The special circumstances behind the film where key generators of interest. James Cameron had first conceived of the film in 1994, but later decided to work on the technology used in the film for a few years instead to make sure his idea was fully realised. It was not until 2006 that production started. Not surprisingly the budget for the film was also significant, ‘time is money’ after all. The budget for the film has been stated at $237 million, making it the most expensive film ever made; this fact alone created interest in the film with people wondering how the huge budget would affect the movie. The events surrounding Avatar were becoming strikingly similar to those that had preceded Titanic a fact that would also have created interest considering the Titanics success.

The marketing and the promotional campaign officially began on the 23rd of July, just 4 months before the film was going to be released. Director James Cameron, Producer Jon Landau, American Film Executive, and actors Zoë Saldana, Stephen Lang and Sigourney Weaver appeared on a panel at the 2009 San Diego Comic-Con. They screened 25 minutes of 3D footage as a demonstration. Weaver and Cameron also spoke at different panels on the 23rd and 24th. The screening of the footage was to show off the biggest selling point of the film the high definition 3D format it was going to be presented in. This was the first real exposure that avatar had. The San Diego Comic-Con is the largest such convention in the entire United States featuring science fiction and fantasy film and television. Selecting this convention as the campaign starting point shows the choice of the initial target market. With Avatar heavily featuring both science fiction and fantasy elements, the producers saw this convention as a method of establishing a platform of those most likely to enjoy the film. Also as most home televisions and computers (where most of the trailer would be viewed) would not be in 3D and high definition this opening venue was chosen because it could best showcase the footage.

At the convention James Cameron announced that the 21st August would be Avatar Day’, on this day the theatrical trailer (in all formats) was released along with the game trailer and a toy line. By timing these releases together they sought to maximise the impact. By setting the occasion ‘Avatar Day’ a talking point was generated, also the three separate facets of the release were tied together so any mention of one of them was linked to all three. Releasing the trailer in all formats increased the ease in which the trailer could be viewed.

The trailers were focused in cinemas, particular those cinemas that Avatar was aimed at such as 3D and IMAX. Avatar was played before any film screened in 3D and often before films being shown on IMAX, as these were the only places that could fully show the films special effects in the trailer. Special events were also used for promotion. To commemorate Vietnam’s first 3D cinema 16 minutes of exclusive footage was screened. The third trailer premièred at a Dallas cowboy’s game on their Diamond vision screen (largest video display in the world). All these events and strategies concentrated on getting as many people as possible to see the quality of the 3D footage.

Its release date was also well suited for achieving success. The decision was made during production of the film to move the release date from the usual summer date of May 22 to the later December 16th. This move was to allow more time for post-production but it also contained additional benefits that might have also influenced the move. The need for more post-production was important considering the films reliance on its high definition format. Twinned with the fact that the pushback gave more cinemas time to install 3-D projectors the release date was targeted on the high definition and 3-D cinema enthusiasts. James Cameron was also keen to attract the Titanic audience, with it not only featuring heavily in the promotional material, but by also releasing Avatar at roughly the same date.

As is the current trend in marketing Avatar had an extensive digital scheme largely focused on getting people talking about the film. Social networking websites like Facebook and Twitter were a key part in its online campaign being becoming an area where large numbers of people could get together and discuss the film. They set up a ‘tweet to listen’ system on twitter where sending a message, allowed fans to listen to music from the film (the soundtrack was BAFTA and Academy Award nominated). was also an important source of promotion, as one of the most used websites in the world it holds a large market and Avatar had an advert on the Youtube homepage for a number of weeks showing the trailer. This widespread online presence made Avatar difficult to miss for the majority of users. Not only did they use one of the fastest growing advertisement mediums but they also specifically targeted the technology aware, who would have a greater chance of holding a interest in the theme and technology used for the film

The biggest piece of online marketing however was the Avatar official website. It held a broad range of information on the film, the film techniques used to make it, and dozens of videos and clips from the movie. It also featured a high amount of interactivity to make people more involved with it. Pandorapedia was set up as an Avatar version of Wikipedia allowing users to submit content about the film themselves, along with engaging the blogging community with competitions and discourse on aspects of the film such as ‘Why Are Avatar Aliens Blue’. These activities got visitors to invest time into Avatar, making the more likely to watch the film. Additionally these large amount if information detailing the production would have increased interest in the product itself. This was especially important to shake of the prevalent image of 3D being used as a gimmick by film production companies before.

Though the biggest interactive element was the Augmented Reality system. Certain toys and the items (such as special Coke Zero cans) allowed a user to interact with the website through a web cam. These methods were put in place to hold peoples attention in the run-up to the film. During the 4 months leading up to the release James Cameron said he wanted a similar situation as with Titanic where saw Avatar as an experience that they would want to share with all their friends and family. Many of the methods used were to make people advertise Avatar themselves, getting them to convince other people to see the film.


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