The (Non-) Marketing Of James Cameron’s ‘Avatar’

Published 6 years ago by , Updated August 22nd, 2013 at 2:57 pm,

avatar header james cameron The (Non ) Marketing Of James Camerons Avatar

Avatar, Screen Rant’s 2nd most anticipated film of 2009, is set to release at the end of the year. It is written and directed by arguably one of the best directors out there, James Cameron, a man who has earned the trust of Sci-Fi fans everywhere and a man who helmed the biggest grossing film of all time: Titanic.

Cameron has not directed a feature film in 12 years and he’s spent a lot of that time on this project, his baby, which is said to revolutionize the way we see films in 3D. No one knows how expensive this project is – years ago an initial budget of $195 million was thrown around and sometime last year it was rumored that it was costing somewhere between $250-300 million. Could be more, could be less – the point is that he’s garnered the trust of Fox studios to invest that much into him and this project.

avatar poster11 The (Non ) Marketing Of James Camerons AvatarWhat I want to talk about is the risk of that investment.

Unlike Spider-Man 3, where Sony put that much money into the project with little risk, Avatar is no sequel and it has no brand recognition. This is an original piece not based on hit TV shows, comics or video games.

What does that mean? Well, it means the only way they’ll get people to see it is by truly selling itself, no reliance on other material or a built-in fanbase. So far, the only selling points we have are that it’s James Cameron and that it’s some new tech employed to make 3D and live-action appears truly as one and the same.

Another marketable trait is that it’s starring Sam Worthington as the lead, who will be super famous and recognizable by the end of this summer with his role in the upcoming Terminator Salvation – where it’s said he got the role in that thanks to Cameron’s recommendation to McG [and we’ve come full circle].

For this movie to be a financial success and to live up to the anticipation for it, it must be a world-wide box office smash. To do that, we need some incredible marketing. We saw probably the most extensive movie marketing ever with Watchmen (rivaling, if not surpassing what there was for The Dark Knight) ranging from loads of viral websites, pictures, supporting DVDs, behind the scenes feature videos, a plethora of trailers and TV spots, re-prints and hardcover releases of the graphic novel, etc (even the extensive lawsuit coverage helped market the movie). Zack Snyder and company took full advantage of the online world, something we’ve seen none of for Avatar – which I would argue may need it even more seeing how it is not coming from the most celebrated graphic novel of all time.

Why do I bring this up now? Well, last week we saw major trailer releases for Terminator Salvation, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Star Trek, Pixar’s Up, Public Enemies and Harry Potter 6 (Click movie names to see the trailers). The obvious difference is that all of these movies are summer fare but it got me thinking when combined with a rumor that they have been trying to make a trailer for Avatar but are having difficulties.

MarketSaw is reporting the rumor from their “trusted source” that eight different trailers have been made for Avatar but none of them have satisfied director James Cameron. The rumor continues that Cameron is now attempting to cut his own trailer and that the problem is that they simply don’t know how to market this property.

AICN has debunked the “8 trailer” story directly from the source: James Cameron.

Thinking about the general plot of the film that we know so far, I can completely understand that. IMDB currently displays the following Synopsis for the film: [possible spoilers?]

In a distant future, humanity discovers the planet ‘Alpha Centauri B-4′, and for those scientists and astronauts who’ve traversed the gulf between neighboring suns and arrived on its alien soil know it as ‘Pandora’. A world filled with an incredible diversity of beautiful and deadly ammonia-breathing lifeforms. Its also a world that harbors treasures and resources almost beyond price. But just as the original Pandora’s Box wrought devastation on those who would use it for their own gain, so too this world may destroy not just the Pandorans home, but ours as well.

Avatar is the story of a wounded ex-marine, thrust unwillingly into an effort to settle and exploit an exotic planet rich in bio-diversity, who eventually crosses over to lead the indigenous race in a battle for survival.

The overall story itself isn’t mind-blowing but it sounds cool as hell to me being a sci-fi fan. How do they market that story while at the same time, showcasing the new 3D and CGI that the film will feature?

Screen Rant reported on the new tech behind Avatar last August and at that time, the movie was said to be 60% CGI, most of which was shot with the brand new motion capturing method everyone’s been talking about using special cameras that Cameron helped develop himself a few years earlier.

Back to the marketing side of things.

So, if the trailer is an issue, what can they do?

Give us other stuff! Create some official sites to give us something, anything. Just recently Fox gave us some stuff on the official site for the Wolverine movie – And it was just picture of a few characters with a one-line voice over for each – very simple and efficient.

If the movie is as beautiful as it’s being hyped up to be, give us some stills. Heck, even a new poster because this old one is useless.

Other than that poster, we’ve been given only two other things: In December, we got our first ever picture for Avatar… and it showed Cameron talking to star Sam Worthington behind the scenes… that’s it. We later finally got an interesting picture which showed Cameron on a cool looking set.

The movie will succeed by bringing in the masses. To bring in the masses, show something to bring them in – I want this movie to succeed.

What do you think about the lack of marketing for this movie and what are your expectations for the film?

I love James Cameron, and he has my trust and support.

Avatar is set to released December 18, 2009 and I’ll be there.

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  1. so this is not the Avatar: Last Air Bender…when will that movie come out

  2. Because it’s James Cameron and a sci-fi/fantasy film, I’m sold. But don’t know about the general public. I agree, they need some major marketing worldwide.

  3. @ haneef,

    For the movie you’re thinking of, they changed the title and dropped the “avatar” part to not get confused with James Cameron’s film.

    It’s just called “The Last Airbender” now.

  4. I have a feeling that Jim Cameron is doing this very much old school when it comes to marketing, by starting the marketing closer to the release date than most movies these days would, and frankly, that’s fine by me.

    Think of it like this. Let’s take Watchmen as an example. We all started seeing trailers and stills and videos and websites, a year or so before the film was set to be released (and that’s considering the old November release date). But, the only people who were seeing all this stuff were us internet people who care enough about movies as a whole and the only people who were convinced they wanted to go see the movie we those of us who thought it was interesting or had read the book. The general public on the other hand didn’t get Watchmen shoved in their faces until about 2-3 months before the movie came out. That’s how they get the general audience.

    Now, the same people who got all that Watchmen stuff a year or so before November are the same people (more or less) who have heard about and are excited for Jim Cameron’s next movie, i.e. us internet folk. The general public knows as much about it as they did about Watchmen, up until about 3 months before the movie came out.

    Thus, really, they only really need to start marketing to the general public about 3 months before the movie is released, since any marketing they do before then on the internet is only going to be preaching to the choir and telling people who already want to see the movie to go see it.

    Or so thats my theory.

  5. Rob, you remind me of the little kid in the back car seat chanting, “are we there yet?” It’s nine months away, ok?

    Fortunately you don’t control when the marketing will roll out for Avatar. I would hate to think what the online mob would have molded Avatar into with no shortage of ridicule, if they had nine months of Avatar material to get all nit picky with.

    You know as well as many, if the www was flooded with Avatar goods for nine months, webmaniacs would be sick of Avatar by December.

  6. Working in social media, viral buzz is the key to all marketing campaigns from now on. The plans costs less and can have a bigger ROI because of it. People like to communicate and interact with one another in our day. Movies will take full advantage of this to spread the word of their movies.

  7. I don’t know that I totally disagree with Joshi on this one, but even if Cameron isn’t going full out with the advertising on Avatar, you have to wonder why there isn’t a bit more promotion out there. Even if he is going “old school,” I would think he’d try to put out a little more to generate some buzz amongst the general public. If nothing else, I assume a teaser trailer will get attached to the new Terminator film. That would just seem logical to me.

    Cameron has a reputation as something of a control freak. Amazingly, his nature as a filmmaker seems to pay off, so his disputes over the trailers doesn’t really shock me, nor that he’s possibly taken over the job of making a trailer. I just hope this isn’t the time Cameron’s perfectionism gets the better of him. This Avatar movie promises a lot. If it lives up to the hype, then I will definitely see it in the theater. Of course, odds favor I’ll determine that based on word of mouth, and that’s about as “old school” in advertising as you can get.

  8. @ Servo,

    hmm… it worked for Dark Knight pretty well.

    Star Trek had a trailer out LAST January, do you disagree with that? It got everyone talking and it let everyone know what’s coming.

    Other than us online movie-news seekers, NO ONE has even heard of Avatar and its not talked about anywhere. This summer, they’ll release a trailer I’m sure.

    btw, What I’m asking for isn’t for me – I clearly stated that I’m already sold, but my friends and family who’ve not heard of this definitely are not.

  9. Personally I think we’re still a bit far from the release date, so there is still plenty of time to get that much needed hype.

    With that said I think the premise for the movie is cool and I’m definitely looking forward to this one. Also, James Cameron should always be on a Sci-fi fan watchlist.

  10. @ Rob Keyes

    “hmm… it worked for Dark Knight pretty well.”

    Did it? Again, save for the internet stuff, there really wasn’t any public press going on until a few months before the movie came out (and it also helps that that was a sequel). It got amazing press online because of people like us who blogged about it and talked about it non-stop, but the general public didn’t hear a whole lot until the advertisements started hitting the theaters and TV’s and the sides of busses about 3-4 months beforehand.

    @Bill Blume
    “I don’t know that I totally disagree with Joshi on this one” so… you kind of agree with me? Sorry, the whole double negative thing threw me. But otherwise, we have 9 months until the movie’s released and they’re at least talking about a trailer. Chances are, someone’s eager to get a trailer out soon, so I doubt he’s going entirely “old school”, just enough that he doesn’t baste us in Avatar for the next 9 months until we’re sick of it.

  11. You only get sick of it if there’s too much – that’s the opposite extreme of what we have now (nothing).

    A few pics, a new poster, a still, something wouldn’t hurt.

    It sounds like you’re saying it’s better to not market early which is going against everything I’ve learned in my marketing experience – a little buzz for this ground-breaking high-expense movie is a positive thing, not negative.

    Like I said, I’m sure they’ll have plenty of material out during the summer – maybe a comic-con appearance?

  12. I’m no expert (by a long shot) this is just my thinking. I’m not saying it’s bad to market early, only that the norm in these circumstances is to start early and bombard us with footage and behind the scenes clips and posters and stills for a the next 9 months. Yes, a still every now and then, perhaps a poster, a little footage is all well and good, if done little by little, thus making sure the actual movie is, by and large, a surprise for us (and that our hopes aren’t set too high). But in the past few years, movies have tended to simply throw everything at us for months on end just to make sure we know about it, to the point that you get sick of it all and that’s what I don’t want from this.

    As you say, it’s a tough film to market in the first place, better they know what they’re doing than rush into it and get it wrong.

  13. I agree with Rob that yes, you do need some buzz circuling, but there are various ways to get the message across. It does not have to be visual. I personally am excited that the only bits of information we know is through word of mouth, two stills, one piece of production art, and that we know James Cameron is working on a sci-fi epic using new camera technology. What they have done is small but there are people on the net buzzing about it, isn’t it ranked number 2 of aniticipated films on this site? And yet there is nothing in terms of motion pictures to drool over.
    I feel that when that teaser comes out it will be so huge and then the floodgates will truly open!

  14. I think what they are doing is brilliant and some of the responses here prove it…Some of you are going mad to see something/anything on this film..I think when the material/promotional footage, stills and interviews start coming for this they will come fast and furious..It already has buzz with threads like this being generated with people like us posting our is buzz whether it is a low key or not..

  15. @ Chris G

    That’s some pretty awesome stuff – especially a 3-D game.

    We had reported about the toy line, before but I didn’t know about the game. I imagine we’ll get a bunch of “first looks” from the toys like we did for Transformers 2 and the Wolverine movie.

  16. @Chris G

    Hey man, thanks for finding that update. I’ve edited the post to reflect the new info.


  17. Thanks Chris,

    At least it gave all of us a reason to discuss the movie together and what we’ve seen so far :)

  18. The film will utilise tech that has yet to be seen. The lack of a current trailer is wholly attributable to the tech’s not being viewable on your t.v. or computer. be patient…

    And hold on to yourself…It’ll be worth it!

  19. Well, I think part of the problem is the large amount of CGI, which is usually what takes the longest to do. So I guess they are waiting until they have enough material before they show off anything with the fear that rushing out marketing will do more to hurt them than to help. But I don’t know. All I know is that I’m definitely going to see this movie no matter what…

  20. @ Rob and Vic

    No problem, and yes, it is great to see more websites sparking discussions about the film.

  21. Ugh. I dunno. This movie better rock. With a reported sky high budget, if it fails, it’ll sink the studio. Good luck Fox and Cameron. Hope it’s good.

  22. I cannot say when, where or why i saw some final footage from Avatar, but the only thing i can say…..what i saw is totaly wonderful….a complete breath of fresh air in sci-fi movie category…..cannot say other thing sorry…..except don’t worry about marketing:)

  23. Absolutely correct, this movie is highly anticipated. But till now it’s highly anticipated by (relatively) small group of people, who does know about this movie at all.

    I’m sure, the movie will rock, and will warrant all the $ millions invested in the movie. But if they won’t think about some actions _before_ the movie starts, the movie impact will begin only _with_ the movie start (and won’t reach its apogee)…

    So it really needs much more viral marketing – for example like an Alternate Reality Game. E.g. Cloverfield, the movie itself was surely anticipated, but it was also made in a very secrecy, plus an ARG was running for this movie – and it was a king and only-winner of movie-killing January (I’m sure, even because of the viral marketing).

    So, Mr. Cameron, unfiction forums are waiting for you.

  24. I am a fully paid technician and do NOT test my science skills.

    I am a geek

    I know everything about technical problems



  25. Im a very well paid idiot who works for apple. dont test my iphone skills