This review contains minimal spoilers for those who have yet to see Avatar. I definitely recommend checking out Iain’s review of the film, as it sums up my personal reaction perfectly. Although the film’s story was far more pedestrian and predictable than I originally thought (and would have liked), there is no looking past the magnificence of the visuals. Experiencing Avatar in IMAX 3D was a visual treat that I believe can spark a new wave of innovative filmmaking. If you haven’t had the chance to see it or yourself, it’s worth your time. Unfortunately, I cannot really say the same about the film’s viral marketing campaign.
Premiering in September, Avtr.com offered a glimpse into the Resource Development Administration and presented clues about Avatar’s plot. I wrote at the time that this offered tremendous potential for a viral campaign. The images, maps, and data logs, were a creative way of showing visitors the motives of the “sky people” on Pandora. In addition, the pictures depicting the monitoring screens, tanks, and holographic maps, proved to be integral to the film. Furthermore, visitors were introduced to a transmission from Colonel Quaritch that offered great insight into his character and highlighted the tensions on the planet. The website looked to be setting us up for something big, something worthy of Avatar’s hype.
But then the unexpected happened. The updates stopped. The site collected dust for almost two months. Although an Avatar Twitter account held a faint pulse, and the Facebook and MTV hosted webcasts answered some questions, none of it seemed substantial. Finally, just when it appeared Avatar would hit theaters without so much as a viral whimper, Avtr.com went live-as a promotional site for Coke Zero. Sure, there were some new images, RDA transmissions, and the opportunity to join the AVTR Advanced Team (which amounted to a link to a Facebook game). But with this inundation of content so close to the film’s release, after so much lag time, there didn’t seem to be a purpose. The hype train had left the station.
I was ready to invest my time in a massive viral campaign that exposed me to the world of Pandora and this potential new franchise. I was left asking though, what happened? Why wasn’t there an ARG when the circumstances were perfect for one? Although there’s no reason Fox Studios couldn’t have developed a solid viral campaign in conjunction with television spots and trailers, it appeared they opted to focus solely on the latter. In the end, maybe they realized marketing towards a niche demographic wouldn’t meet their box office goals the way mass produced commercials, Coca Cola tie-ins, and Mattel toys would. Judging by the solid opening weekend box office, they may have been right, but the viral remains wasted potential.
A film that positioned itself as an industry changing epic gave many hope that a viral campaign reflecting such lofty ambition would be used. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. Despite drumming up initial interest through websites like Avtr.com, Avatar’s viral campaign failed to live up to the hype that the final film arguably did. Maybe they will learn their lesson if there’s a sequel.
Final Grade: C