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McDonald’s Is Latest Augmented Reality Convert with “Avatar” Campaign

By Dec 15, 2009

McDonald’s is hoping to tap into fan excitement surrounding the new techno-blockbuster movie “Avatar” with some sci-fi flourishes of its own—namely an interactive game that lets players explore the movie’s computer-generated planet Pandora and a set of on-package cards that can put them there, at least in virtual space.

The quick service giant’s global campaigns around the movie, which opens this Friday, were announced last week in a web conference that included the movie’s director, James Cameron (“Titanic”, “Alien”, “Aliens”) and producer Jon Landau. While it will take different forms around the world and link to different menu items, the U.S. marketing will center on McDonald’s Big Mac.

From December 18 through January 7, U.S. customers who buy a Big Mac will get packaging with one of 8 different Avatar “Thrill Cards” attached. When these cards are held up to a Web cam, participants can use McD Vision augmented reality software to interact with the lush jungle landscapes generated for the movie.

A related interactive game, PandoraQuest, lets global players find hidden objects in three Pandoran landscapes, winning a membership in the “RDA Research Team” featured in the movie for locating all the items. U.S. players who scavenge successfully will get more than just the honor of joining the team: They’ll also unlock bonus features in the form of scenes from the movie.

Players can also use an online version of a PandoraROVR, a transport vehicle seen in the film, to explore the planet on the Web, capturing and sharing images with others.

“Avatar”, which will run in 3-D in selected theaters, sets the bar pretty high for customer engagement tie-ins, McDonald’s U.S. chief marketing officer Neal Golden said during the conference. That’s why the company decided to link it to the Big Mac in North America.

“The Big Mac is all about the thrill of your senses,” Golden said. “There’s so much going on with the big Mac, we think it’s a perfect match for the movie.”

Director Cameron agreed that the tech-heavy nature of the McDonald’s “Avatar” campaign was suited to the movie’s rich computer-generated look, years in development.

“When I set out to write this movie [in 2005], I knew that the [computer generated imagery] was about to create a situation where we could do anything that we could imagine,” he said. “McDonald’s has stepped up and met that same level. I don’t think anyone has seen anything like what they’re doing with these tie-ins, the McD vision augmented reality in particular.

Prior to the movie’s U.S. debut, McDonald’s began running a Twitter-based buzz campaign, asking followers to be among the first 10 entrants to decode daily word scrambles and enter their solutions online. The grand prize for the Twitter campaign is the chance to watch a private screening of “Avatar” over a Big Mac lunch with Landau (even though the producer and Cameron both confessed that they prefer the McDonald’s Quarter Pounder.)

During the conference, global chief marketing officer Mary Dillon was asked if big immersive experiences were the promotional ‘wave of the future” for McDonald’s, considering both this campaign and last ring “Lost Ring” Olympics tie-in, which became the world’s largest virtual role-playing game.

“We are all about relevance and innovation for our customers, and we love to be where our customers are living and playing,’ she said. “Certainly the world of social media is hot. So expect to see more of this from us in the future.”

Some of the overseas campaigns include other interactive elements. For example, in Germany and the U.K., online players will have the chance to morph photos of themselves into the blue-skinned creatures who dominate “Avatar”. Australian customers will get hidden codes on cups and tray liners that will enter them into a McDonald’s Avatar sweepstakes.

And while McDonald’s Latin America will offer the McD Vision augmented reality experience, participating stores there will get around the relatively limited access to home broadband and computers by offering table stations within the stores so customers can picture themselves on Pandora.