What Avatar Can Teach You About Repurposing Your Content

image from the movie Avatar

The entertainment and CGI world has been fawning over the movie Avatar for months, and it seems you can’t watch any entertainment news program without hearing about James Cameron’s groundbreaking 3D epic.

And even if Cameron went home last week without the armful of Oscars he expected, directing the highest-grossing movie of all time probably takes the sting out.

But despite the movie’s brilliant effects and the unique world it creates, you’ll likely feel as if you’ve heard its underlying story before. In fact, you may very well predict the ending about an hour into the film.

So what makes “Avatar” so special? Why did it create such a fanatic following, and what can it teach you about creating a following with your own blog and marketing content?

What’s old is new again

The basic premise of Avatar involves the protagonist learning the ways of the “enemy” but ultimately gaining a deeper understanding of what’s at stake and siding with them to destroy the hero’s original allies.

Avatar’s storyline has been likened to science fiction stories from Edgar Rice Burroughs and dozens of popular movies, such as 1990s blockbuster Dances with Wolves.

Avatar’s plot has been done before, clearly. But audiences still made it a box office leader.

Instead of being bored to death by the same plot told over and over, we’re all suckers for a good story — even if we can guess what’s going to happen at the end.

Just because you might be a little tired of your tried-and-true message doesn’t mean your audience is. Put their needs first.

Put your old content back to work

Take a look at your older content — even things you’ve written which haven’t been published online.

And you don’t have to stop there. The public domain is practically bursting at the seams with sage advice and workable suggestions from well before the Internet, television, or even radio existed.

Or, like I’ve done here with Avatar, you can take something people are thinking about and imagine a new slant on it.

Ask yourself — Is there a way you could put a fresh new slant on any of these and make them relevant for today’s audience?

Walt Disney made a fortune repurposing old fables and fairy tales into animated stories. He added a few tweaks to make them more memorable and interesting for a new generation of children, but the core plots remain unchanged, even hundreds of years later.

Here are some great ways to rework your content:

  • Rewrite your headline. You’ve come a long way with your writing (you’re reading Copyblogger, right?). It’s time to see if that great old post with a boring headline from the early days could use some magic.
  • Create a bulleted list. Lists are easier for your readers to scan and get workable ideas from. Lists seem to talk to your readers, rather than at them, the way some paragraphs can.
  • Turn it into a series. If you find that what you have to say about a particular older post becomes a little longer, why not rework it into a weeklong series? These can make for some of your most valuable cornerstone content.

Making the connection

In Avatar the native inhabitants of the planet can connect with other plants and animals so that connections can be shared at the speed of thought.

When it comes to reworking your existing content, don’t hesitate to make your own connections by tapping into social media networks and getting ideas and feedback from your target audience.

Create your own version of a social media digital campfire and start looking for exciting ways to stir up the enthusiasm in your readers. No matter how many ways they’ve heard the information before, you might just hit upon that “light bulb moment” that makes it all click!

About the Author: Sherice Jacob is an author, copywriter, and designer who makes it her life’s mission to improve websites. For more writing insights, follow @sherice on Twitter.

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Reader Comments (41)

  1. says

    “So what makes “Avatar” so special? Why did it create such a fanatic following, and what can it teach you about creating a following with your own blog and marketing content?”

    Avatar was so special, because it was the first 3D movie, and a lot of people were really curios. Another great example of how something new attracts a lot of people is the Ipad …more than 100.000 preorders in the first day.

  2. says

    This is a great post.

    I often use contents from related posts to create new posts. Enhance a post with examples that did not exist before.

    I have seen newspaper columnists also do the same.

  3. says

    I just started doing this more and more. Before I would just write to write. Now I take a step back and really think about a way a can slant a piece.

    Last year I didn’t think much about embracing pop culture and the buzz but now I see things differently.

    If people like Avatar there’s a reason for it…so how can I write and position something that works in the Pop with some purpose.


  4. says

    You stated a good point, “No matter how many ways they’ve heard the information before, you might just hit upon that “light bulb moment” that makes it all click!”

    Not only does reworking information help the reader, it also helps the writer gain a better understanding of the subject. The writer can have her “light bulb” moments as well, and that’s what makes blogging so much fun.

  5. says

    Don’t get me wrong, I loved Avatar. It was great, but I don’t think that the content had much to do with it. The storyline was simplistic and predictable. It was mostly the bells and whistles around the movie (i.e. the amazing graphics) that brought people to the box office. That’s why it didn’t win that many Oscars.

    As far as repurposing content, I’m all for that. Thanks for the suggestions. It’s hard coming up with new ideas all the time.

  6. says

    Haha I liked Avatar, I think it’s the pioneer of 3D movies. Even though it took a little bit too long – 12 years! I don’t know if it was necessary, but it reminds me of Seth Godin’s advice of shipping, instead of keep refining.

    I remember reading from a magazine that a video game developer kept refining its new game and refused to ship even though the deadline hit. Eventually it was a flop because he could never keep up with the new technology.

    But you’re right that repurposing old content is effective, because it might remind you of some important points that they missed the first time around. It also helps you to look at the same problem from a different angle and it might trigger some new ideas.

    In fact, many posts here on Copyblogger are not “new” per se. You could find the cornerstone concepts in Copywriting 101 series. But as Zig Ziglar said, it takes 16 hearings to fully grasp the all the concepts and ideas in a speech, no matter how professional a speaker is. Our brain just works better with both fundamentals and fresh ideas.

    Thanks for a great post!

  7. says

    Hmm… so all I need to do is make my old blogposts blue and 3D?

    Although I agree it was mostly the bells and whistles that made Avatar work, I went to see it with my mother and siblings, and they enjoyed it on a story level, too.

    I think people do like to be told the same stories over again. And we certainly like to read stuff we agree with, even if we’ve read something similar before.

  8. says

    What a great reminder to go back through our archives for inspiration and also to create new content based on a reworking of what we already have. I’ve found some treasures in my archives and am working to find ways to bring them back to the forefront again. Thanks, Sherice!

  9. says

    I have started doing this with older posts that were not as good as my more recent posts.

    Also a relevant posts will be helpful and relevant today and 6 mnths from now.

    That is what it comes down to, will it be helpful.

  10. says

    Thanks for the great post, Sherice. It’s always good to remember that the tried-and-true is that way because it works.

    I have a direct mail piece about a new gardening technology pinned to my corkboard at my desk with the headline:
    “My husband laughed when I ordered… Now he brags about all the tomatoes HE’s growing!”

    At first I thought “Oh man, that copywriter just lifted that headline from (fill in the blank where you first read that headline)”. But it works. And that’s the goal, right?

    But back to Avatar :). My question is: would the film have been noticed if it wasn’t for the effects? Were the story and the characters compelling enough for it to make a worldwide splash if the technology and imagery wasn’t so cool?

  11. says

    So true. I’m also one of the thousands of people who enjoys avatar.
    New online bloggers come up everyday. Why not go back to our archives and re-do and update some important information that will be helpful to others. Plus, some information are just useful enough as a refresher too. Great post, Sherice.

  12. says

    Probably not AS many people would have seen it for the content alone… then again, look how popular similar stories have been throughout the years (Disney’s Pocahontas is another one that comes to mind)

    Avatar had a huge amount of social networking on its side too. How many of you went to see it because a friend said so? :)

    Plus, I’m just now realizing with all the books and such being published about Avatar, how incredibly rich and detailed James Cameron made this universe. It’s on par with Star Wars as far as the imagination that went into this world!

    It makes me wonder, how can we lead our viewers and readers on a similar journey with us?

  13. Greg Brent says

    I respectfully disagree. I personally felt like Avatar had ripped me off royally. I wanted my ten bucks back. I personally believe that if you are reposting with little new to say then you are cheating your readers out of a meaningful post that could have had some new (and most importantly original) content in it.

    I read Moby Dick once, but if I wanted to see the same thing again I would just read it again; I wouldn’t go and pick up Doby Mick about whaling in a different ocean.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for elaborating, but don’t label it as something new. That’s called repackaging. Or lying… whichever makes you feel better.

  14. says

    What’s old is new again. Ain’t that the truth! My daughter just wore leg warmers to school. You know on top of the jeans:)

    Great article Sherice. If I could only convince my clients that they do not have to re-invent the wheel — just add a little blue color to change things up:) More people would create more content!

  15. says

    This is great advice. Once in a while I have republished an article, but never really thought about bringing an old article up to date. Let’s face it our ideas evolve over time so we can make our old articles evolve as well.


    Don McCobb

  16. says

    Hi Greg,

    I felt that way during the first 30 minutes of the movie too – so I can see where you’re coming from.

    I wouldn’t post with little or nothing new to say, though. Just look at the concept of “social networking” — haven’t we always been doing that? Whether it was around a campfire with our animal pelts on or a computer with our headphones in our ears, some settings never truly change :)

  17. says

    Digging back through my old blog archives and idea books as we speak…

    It’s amazing how much good stuff you can find if you just look on the back of that napkin from Denny’s from like, 2 years ago.

    Man, there’s some good stuff there. And I think I just found a bit of grand slam left over too…

  18. says

    Not only is re-purposing old content a great exercise in updating your old, crappier copy, but it’s also a great time to work on some SEO, not to mention and endless stream of new blog content.

    A little tip that I learned from our friends at Problogger, is that you should take some time out of each day to re-purpose and tweak your old content to make the search engines happy to see you.

    The re-hashing of old ideas is always a creature comfort as well. Who really wants to go to a movie where everyone dies in the end… and who wants to read a sales letter where there is nothing that the customer can relate to in their life?

    -Joshua Black
    The Underdog Millionaire

  19. says

    Sherice, thank you for this: “Just because you might be a little tired of your tried-and-true message doesn’t mean your audience is. Put their needs first.”

    It has really struck a chord for me and reminded me how much my own audience “need” my message!

    Disney is indeed great at reworking the fable. I used a Disney story in a blog post I wrote last week, after seeing “The Princess and The Frog” with my kids at the cinema. It was such a lovely, simple story, but illustrated the principles of achieving one’s vision beautifully. So I reworked it into “Three steps to achieving your dream from the girl who kissed a frog” and got some great feedback from my readers!

  20. says

    That’s great, Amanda! A perfect example of repurposing your content. Remember, It doesn’t even have to be something you’ve already written – it can simply be a new slant on an existing concept.

    And Mike, I do believe you’ve got a bit of gravy on your idea :)

  21. says

    Avatar follows the most tried and tested story prototype around: The Hero’s Journey, as described by Joseph Campbell in the Hero with a Thousand Faces.

    Ever since Campbell wrote the book, it’s been used to write nearly every blockbuster adventure film ever made. Most famously Star Wars, where George Lucas followed it to the letter. Sort of like the AIDA of scriptwriting.

    What’s fascinating about the Hero’s Journey is that the elements crop up independently in stories from every ancient civilisation. If you look at the components, there are some great lessons about common themes of the human psyche in there.

    Definitely worth a read.

  22. says

    Great reminders Sherice. I often find myself thinking I have to continually think up something new, then I get stuck. Might be time better spent mining the archives!

  23. Sonia Simone says

    While Avatar’s effects may have been amazing, I do believe that it’s Cameron’s strong sense of story (even if it feels very simple to some) that lets him keep putting out blockbusters. He knows how to take an oft-told tale and spin it in a satisfying way. It’s something worth studying, even if you don’t personally enjoy his schtick.

  24. says

    “In Avatar the native inhabitants of the planet can connect with other plants and animals so that connections can be shared at the speed of thought. ” Wow, sounds like the internet! :)

  25. says

    I believe that reworking the presentation is equally as important as reworking the information. I have read some great rework on outdated 1999 blog design. If the presentation is not appealing or fresh, some won’t even bother look at.

  26. says

    Avatar is reminiscent of a lot of other movies, like Dances with the Wolves, Last Samurai (in term of story), Starship Troopers, King Kong, & Phantom Menace (in term of visual, etc). But, I agree with how it’s successfuly repurpose the old stories in a new 3D and CG-driven film medium.

    Anyway, I bet you can repurpose your old articles as videos. It’s a medium that I don’t see many bloggers in the internet marketing niche used effectively yet.

  27. says

    Hey Sherice,

    Good post. Just make sure you don’t recycle your content too fast! I’ve seen a couple of bloggers who rehashed content that was still on the front page. I was manifestly unimpressed. :)

  28. says

    Last year I didn’t think much about embracing pop culture and the buzz but now I see things differently.But it was amazing

  29. says

    Really and I will recheck and rewrite my headlines for the articles and I think that it would help me bringing some of my articles back into the life. I am really going to work that out.

  30. says

    I just hope some readers don’t get lazy and just start rewriting their old posts with a slightly different angle. This is annoying and every time I see it I think “Why am I reading this blog again?”

    When done right, I agree—this is fantastic advice. But when it’s done quickly without much thought….not so much.

  31. says

    I agree — there’s sloppy “repurposing” – but like Joomify said above, rewriting blog content from 1999? Absolutely. Go for it, but make sure it’s done right and the message doesn’t sound rehashed. :)

  32. says

    Well, look, some bloggers are good and some are not so good, right? So upon hearing the idea to repurpose your work and brighten it up with a zingy new title, the not so good writers will slop on a hot new title and re-publish it. The good writers know to take that old content, rework it with their updated skills and fresher voice, slap on the hot new title and voila! Great new post. Good for them for re-working an idea they may have had before they had the skills to fully flesh it out for their reader. I wouldn’t call that cheating. I’m off to scour the older posts now!

  33. says

    Avatar shows a connection between the old (the local inhabitants of Pandora) and the new (the earth people). As we move forward there is a lot in the past we have learnt from. Revisiting old posts is a relearning experience.

  34. says

    I think Avatar not only re-purposed it re-packaged and that’s why I think it was so successful. A tried a true theme presented and packaged unlike anything our eyes had seen before.

    That’s why it’s not uncommon for some entrepreneurs to take public domain works, re-write and then re-package it as a video, DVD, e-book, subscription site etc. and be quite successful.

    The combination of the two can be quite successful indeed.

  35. says

    The story line of Avatar is the same. But, the way it is told is extremely good. And the underlying message has value.

    These are the two key I suggest to keep in mind while creating the content.

    Yesterday I saw a very good blog post on Budweiser and the horses. The horses connect with the tradition and the old message that has worked. But, now they are trying to update things on Facebook too. A nice combination of combining old idea with a newer social media avenue.

  36. says

    I love Copyblogger. It never fails to make me think in new ways. I hadn’t even noticed the well-worn baseline of the story – I was too dazzled by the bells and whistles.
    Thanks for the repurposing reminder. I have a lot of stuff collecting dust.

  37. says

    And I just love Avatar. ; )

    Ok, ok, actually I was shocked the movie got mentioned here, but come to think about it, there are lessons to be learnt and utilised in the end.

    And by the way, Avatar teaches another thing about social media, that no matter what your colour (topic/niche/market) is, a singular goal achieves more collectively (partnering/joint-ventures).

    Good article. And um, Avatar rocks!

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