Indeed, there is some speculation that the actual budget was closer to $500m (although an in-depth report in Vanity Fair magazine suggests that that is the full production + prints/marketing figure (budgets only cover production, even though prints/marketing, as part of the distribution process, typically cost the same again). This is a prime example of a growing trend amongst the 'big 6' (20th Century Fox being the producer): producing fewer films and basing the company around a smaller number of mega-budget releases, increasingly released simultaneously worldwide rather than the expensive prints touring territory by territory. The simultaneous marketing blitz often demonstrates the global reach of these mostly vertically AND horizontally integrated conglomerates.
As well as the unescapabale billboard, bus and general paid-for media ad campaign for Avatar, the UK was far from unique in seeing News Corporations other assets being fully exploited in a prime example of horizontal integration (having global TV/satellite, and web, operations also helped with the vertical integration!). The Guardian's Media Monkey column noted on 18th January 2010 how Murdoch's tabloid The S*n was deployed to assist this blitz:
So how many times can the Sun find pretexts for mentioning James Cameron's movie Avatar in its news pages? Answer: quite a few. "Rugby in a 3D first ... 3D fever, begun by film Avatar", "3D set to go seedy ... adult film makers have jumped on the Avatar bandwagon", "District 9 review: James Cameron's £300m breathtaking Avatar is currently taking cinemas by storm ...", "Ava-Ta Very Much ... The huge success of 3D blockbuster Avatar is helping Cineworld to battle the recession" and so on. The Sun is owned by News International, part of Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation which also owns Twentieth Century Fox, which made ... Avatar.News Corporation also benefitted from its Sky network, enthusiastically pushing Avatar as a 'must see movie', but also using its Xmas Eve 2010 UK TV premiere on Sky 3D to push subscriptions for the company. This also points to some of the hidden benefits from News Corporation and James Cameron's huge investment in the film: not only did it help to establish 3D cinema as a real force (cinemas charge large premiums for 3D films), the R+D work behind it ensures that Cameron has developed cutting-edge technology which can be used for further films (the cameras and other equipment were actually leased out to other filmmakers). As Avatar eventually soared to $760m in the US (totalling $2.7bn worldwide, trouncing Titanic), it reinforced Hollywood's big 6 conviction that spending to levels unimaginable by other nation on Earth (possible because they profit from most nations on Earth!) is a wise and sustainable strategem.
A reported $18,000 a day was spent on Google adwords for the US alone!!! (This is where you pay to have sponsored results at the top of a related Google results page) Perhaps ironically (given News Corporation's disastrous purchase of MySpace just as Facebook began to consign it to a slow death), 20th Century Fox used social media with real panache. As reported here, Facebookers were able to submit questions to Cameron through an official Avatar Facebook Page, the results of which were spun off into an MTV Behind the Scenes special (neatly using two global brands!).
As reported here, Avatar had run up 1.15m Facebook fans by Jan 2010, and 800,000 MySpace 'friends', fantastic resources for well-directed marketing. It was a hit on Twitter, a massive story throughout the blogosphere, and 'If that wasn't enough the Avatar YouTube page drew in millions of fans in their drones, loaded with behind the scenes information and fake videos by the character Dr Augustine.' as reported in this fantastic analysis, which also highlighted...
THE MACDONALDS TIE-IN
A key component to the game was McD VISION, an augmented reality experience that immerses players in Pandora. In addition to this was PandoraROVR a vehicle which can transport the player all around the web version of Pandora.'
'McDonald's also ran a Twitter campaign, asking followers to be the first 10 to decode daily word scrambles. The grand prize was a private screening of Avatar over a Big Mac lunch with producer Jon Landau (Source: Promo Magazine.) '
There were also tie-ins with Coke zero and an interactive trailer which gave three options for buying tickets - Avatar has truly shown the future of blockbuster marketing. LG even launched a brand new smartphone as a tie-in to Avatar (the Chocolate BL40). This campaign also saw the growing trend of trailer-as-event taken to new levels. The obligatory visit was made to Comic Con, home of the all-important (as far as sci-fi box office is concerned) geek, but more than this the second teaser trailer was premiered live to 80,000 people inside the Dallas Cowboys football stadium - an event heavily hyped by Fox News (another News corp subsidiary). Almost as spectacular, the release of 16mins of advance footage to IMAX cinemas caused a real sensation.
If you think about the audiences targeted, this is pretty damned comprehensive...
McDonalds (children, parents - two age ranges - plus the vital teen demographic)
LG's smartphone - the tech-literate early adopters, a natural target for sci-fi (and the story of the technology behind the film became a key part of the hype by itself)
Comic Con - the (male, teen to 30-something) geek
Coke Zero - fairly female friendly, and yet another global brand
Facebook, Twitter, MySpace - smart; used by a growing proportion of the entire population, not the preserve of the young it was in the mid-noughties
Google adwords - again, fairly universal!
You can read more still at these links:
Vanity Fair article
LG's press release
Incredibly detailed article (LAOfficeLounge.com)
Brief one on use of social media
The Facebook/MTV tie-in (brief)
Well illustrated, in-depth overview (12cMarketing.blogspot.com)
How digital marketing helped Avatar break records (in-depth: Media Shift)
Budget $237m - tentpole strategy
Main production co Twentieth Century Fox = Big 6 (a subsidiary of the conglomerate News Corp., owned by R. Murdoch [S*n, Sky, Times etc in UK = much scope for horizontal integration, + vertical integration as also has exhibition arms [Fox TV network, Sky etc])