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Avatar’s Marketing: What were they thinking?

[IMG:L] What is 20th Century Fox thinking? Have you seen the marketing for Avatar? As one colleague recently ruminated, “Fox has never known how to sell a good movie.” Sad but true. They do know how to sell the living hell out of bad ones like this summer’s remake of Universal Soldier,  titled X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Their tactic is simple: Oversaturate the market so people cannot possibly miss knowing when the opening weekend is, then cross your fingers and pray the negative buzz doesn’t overwhelm the advertising. But this time around, someone has set a bunch of monkeys with typewriters loose in the staff room, turning out incredibly terrible ideas like rebranding a popular soda can with the name “AVTR” and running embarrassing, completely nonsensical pieces of footage at highly questionable times.

The worst idea thus far ran during the fourth game of the World Series in which several scenes from the film were juxtaposed against moments from the previous game with voice-over being intercut with lines of dialogue from the movie. Even I, one of Avatar‘s most vocal and ardent supporters, got a good, solid whiff of my palm as my face was buried deep into it. Just look for yourself.

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So what are they thinking, chasing off “alpha filmgoers” (that’s you, people who read about films and often see them on opening day) terrified that this is just another big-budget, overhyped Fox dud?

What if this marketing isn’t for you? I mean, let’s face it, folks like us aren’t going to be driven to watch a film because its name is emblazoned on a Coke Zero can. And we don’t need to know that it’s opening on Dec. 18; we’ve pretty much got that written down on our calendars – whether mentally or physically. Because odds are you’re going to see it, commercials be damned. I know I will. It’s got the name James Cameron on it. I’d see it even if every frame of the trailer made me want to peel my eyelids off.

No, my guess is that Fox is afraid everyone else won’t see it. After all, this is this year’s Lord of the Rings, the season’s Harry Potter; its Star Wars. A ton of money went into this thing, regardless of which estimate you believe, and the film lacks the one component all of those properties have in common: brand recognition. People know what Lord of the Rings is. They know Harry Potter. They don’t know what the heck an Avatar is supposed to be. They have no idea what to expect – unless, of course, Fox rams the ideas down their throat so hard that once it is in theaters people need to run and see it just to find out what all the fuss is about, like they did in droves for Harry PotterThe Dark Knight and Twilight. Once there, the film can speak for itself, and on that front I am acutely aware that the studio is confident.

Fox, well known for keeping the Internet press at arm’s length, this time is giving the the full court press. For years I have been on a banned list from seeing their films at screenings, but now I’m receiving invites for interviews and an invite to an early, press-only, no-friends screening. Studios only hold “no +1” screenings when they are very, very confident that everyone will want to pay to see it and that press will pay to see it again with friends and family.

So is the bad advertising indicative of a bad film? I think not. The studio isn’t worried about what the alpha filmgoers think about their advertising. They know your ticket is as good as sold, especially once you hear positive reviews. This is for a different crowd entirely. And since those filmgoers are beginning to ask us critics “Will this be any good?” I’m starting to question whether it is really bad advertising at all.

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