Avatar: State of the Art (Marketing)

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Techland broke the news earlier today of an elaborate interactive trailer being released in support of the “Avatar” PR campaign – an interface built on Adobe AIR software that allows users to toggle between the film’s trailer, extended featurettes, “Avatar” media and related discussions on various social networks. But this trailer is just the beginning of what Twentieth Century Fox is billing a groundbreaking “Avatar” multimedia network, all geared at immersing the viewer in a Na’vi universe that director James Cameron has molded from scratch.

“When someone like James Cameron invents an entirely new world, an entirely new language, it allows us to do something like this,” says Jeffrey Godsick, Fox’s executive vice president for marketing and digital online. “There is so much world to explore, to experiment with. We’re trying to give people a way of exploring it all. ” Godsick says Cameron has now completed the film, and is in the process of making the final technical alterations before delivering a final “Avatar” print to the studio next week. But if the marathon is finally coming to an end for Cameron, who’s been working on the film for what seems like a geological age, the marketing maelstrom surrounding “Avatar” is just heating up.

While today’s Adobe AIR release includes new footage from the planet Pandora, Godsick says Tuesday’s interactive trailer will expand rapidly in the weeks to come, with more than a dozen additional hotpsots on the way. On Dec. 3, MTV News and Facebook are also planning to join forces for a live streaming panel that will feature Cameron and members of the film crew. The groundbreaking 3-D “Avatar” video game is being prepped for a Dec. 1 release. There’s also a major initiative underway to launch various lines of “augmented reality” products, all tied to the “Avatar” release.

“This movie is all about breaking ground that hasn’t been broken before, in creating a totally immersive, 3-D experience that’s different from anything you’ve experienced before,” Godsick says. “Augmented reality seems like a natural extension of that idea, that you can buy something and are then given access to explore the movie’s ships and characters.” He says the studio has identified three augmented reality partners – Coca Cola, McDonald’s and Matel – that will allow consumers to hold up a product to a web cam and in turn be given access through their computer to “Avatar” models that they can control. “At McDonald’s, for example, every Big Mac box in production has coding that will allow different things to pop up on the computer screen.”

Is this the future of merchandising? Tie-ins that link reality to a virtual space, where studios can provide fans with an unlimited backstage pass to supplemental material? Fictional worlds that start on the movie screen, but then spill out into a fast food virtual space?

There’s been a whole lot of talk about “Avatar” changing the way viewers think about movies, but maybe its larger influence will come in the boardrooms of Hollywood instead, pertaining less to the film’s plot than its promotional mix.

Check out TIME’s top 100 movies.