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James Cameron experiments with “free”

July 25, 2009
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(Editor’s note: Devin is reading Free right now, and will post a series of posts in the next few days about how (or if) our business culture is changing).

Chris Anderson’s “Free” is becoming as much of a marketing cliche as “Tipping Point and Blink.”

Movies are getting in on the act. James Cameron will screen about 15 minutes of his latest movie Avatar. For free. At as many theatres as he can find time at.

Right now, there’s a group of marketers who are going crazy. 
“See, Free is coming. Everything will soon be free. James Cameron is doing it. Movies will be free. So will computers.” Oh what a glorious world that will be.

Here’s the problem. There’s nothing new about what Cameron is doing with Avatar. Free samples are nothing new. And Cameron bought into the “free” hype and is trying to do something different. In the end, it’s not going to do anything for his movie.

Avatar was already going to be one of the most-hyped new releases. It’s James Cameron. Maybe you’ve heard of him? This movie will be on every pizza box, every fast food cup and every available open space. There’s no way you are going to somehow miss this movie.

So, by screening 15 minutes of the film, what does Cameron accomplish? Nothing. I’d like this tactic better if Avatar was an indie project that needed hype. If you weren’t going to see Avatar before, letting you see 15 minutes of the movie for free isn’t going to do anything. The Dark Knight did the same thing, but it wasn’t as if someone who was previously NOT INTERESTED suddenly had to find out what happened to those bank robbers.

James Cameron is just trying to hype his movie. I doubt it will cost him anything for the time. Any smart theatre owner would just cut one showing of “G-force” or “The Ugly Truth” and put Avatar on a continous loop. You come in for free, and I guarantee that theatre owner’s concessions business will go through the roof. 

It’s not a bad idea. It’s just not going to do anything for his business.

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