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Successful PR Strategies Transformed the Release of “Avatar: The Way of Water”

Photo courtesy of @avatar via Instagram

Published on March 1, 2023, at 5:40 p.m.
by Morgan Perkins.

Enthusiastic fans of Disney’s Avatar franchise have waited 13 years to experience the world of Pandora again. The comment section of Avatar’s official Instagram was filled with positive remarks from viewers and organizations who saw “Avatar: The Way of Water” opening day. Hulu commented, “One way ticket to Pandora please.” Fans were extremely impressed with the film, which was no coincidence. Even my 91-year-old grandma who doesn’t have a cellphone said the film was enchanting.

How did a sequel 13 years later with a $250 million budget manage to reach $2 billion in worldwide box office sales within a month of being released? Simple — Disney’s public relations team understood the Avatar fanbase and how to connect with them.

Partnerships are powerful

Opening weekend, “Avatar: The Way of Water” brought in $435 million in worldwide box office sales. James Cameron, the director of the film, owes that success partly to the public relations team that promoted the movie before its release. Disney strategically partnered with Kellogg’s to create more than just a promotional item for the brand and film, but a completely encompassing experience to connect with both audiences. Kellogg’s had Avatar-related displays in supermarkets and a specially made version of Frosted Flakes called Pandora Flakes.

Photo courtesy of Charles Deluvio via Unsplash

The PR team capitalized on this partnership because the main theme of “Avatar: The Way of Water” is the importance of family. What better way to emphasize the value of family before the film than to connect with families during one of their mealtimes? The PR team expanded this mealtime into an opportunity for the whole family to experience the world of Pandora and relive any memories of viewing the initial film together.

Another successful partnership for the film was with Mercedes-Benz, which has an entirely different target audience than Kellogg’s. Mercedes-Benz created a futuristic car display that represents the company’s focus on sustainability while also leaning into Avatar’s message that “the Earth is our Pandora.” Sustainability is central to Mercedes-Benz because its goal is to create a fully electric future while still producing luxurious cars.

The display allowed Mercedes-Benz to have an outlet to connect with its audience and further its sustainability initiatives while continuing the conversation about “Avatar: The Way of Water.” The display also reminded fans that Avatar remains innovative and spellbinding.

Less is sometimes more

The PR team understood why fans are infatuated with the Avatar franchise and used that in its media strategies to promote the film. The teaser posters released on Twitter and the trailer released on Instagram were both heavily focused on highlighting the high-quality and mesmerizing aspects of the film rather than sharing plot points or including excessive dialogue.

Photo courtesy of @avatar via Instagram

For example, the two-minute-long trailer demonstrated the captivating setting of Pandora by following along as various characters explored its new, underwater world. The PR team understood what features the fanbase wanted to see and how to best deliver it on social media to increase excitement and engagement before the release of the film.

There was also a special blue carpet premiere for various celebrities to view the film before its release to the general public. This event created immense publicity for “Avatar: The Way of Water” because fans were able to experience Pandora come to life in Los Angeles through the videos and pictures shared on social media.

Unique features always win

Another strategic move by the PR team was to provide videos and information on social media of how the movie was filmed. For example, Cameron had 900,000-gallon tanks built for the cast members to film their underwater scenes. Sharing these behind-the-scenes elements showed how the filming process was unique and gave fans one more reason to invest in the franchise.

The film also captured computer-generated characters and environments while still using a live-action shoot. Cameron said in an interview he wanted viewers to have “no idea which they are looking at.” The Avatar franchise continues to go beyond viewers’ wildest dreams and provides them with realities they only knew as fantasies.

Perception matters

The greatest films would go unwatched if no one knew they were being released. While Cameron deserves most of the credit for creating a groundbreaking film, the PR team created awareness about the release and the opportunity for viewers to fall in love with the film. At the core of the Avatar franchise and public relations is understanding what your audience wants and delivering it in a strategic, creative way.

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