What The Oscars Taught Me About Marketing

POSTED BY Scott Chrisman - 03.11.14 -

oscars and marketingWatching the Oscars broadcast two Sunday's ago, all I could think was, “Why does this feel so hollow?”  Sure it’s showbiz, big on flash and often short on substance, but this is supposed to be the critically acclaimed, cream of the crop, exciting cinematic stuff.  This is Hollywood’s biggest night, where is all my flash?  The Oscar brand hinges on storytelling—and in this broadcast, I didn’t see any.  


The part I have always loved best about the Oscars is the opening montage.  Past openings have been filled with parody or at least clever nods to the films that are nominated. Think Billy Crystal’s running through recognizable scenes from nominated movies and interacting with their characters. This year’s Oscars broadcast was a long string of unconnected parts that did not match their established image and failed in the brand experiential marketing arena.


My main takeaway from the whole night should also be the focus of any good marketing campaign: Know your audience, tell them who you are, and deliver on that promise.  What is the story of your brand and how do you tell it to the people that will care?   Two of the Best Picture nominees did a fine job of that in their Oscar campaigning, Gravity and 12 Years A Slave.  The Academy is notorious for loving biopics, relationship driven dramas, and history based films, but a film can still be overlooked because it didn’t have a clear message in its bid for Oscar.  Here’s looking at you Wolf of Wall Street and American Hustle.  Both failed to carve out their space in the public and Academy voters’ minds.  What are they? Period pieces, dramas, comedies, or somewhere in between?  Are they exposing corruption or reveling in it? Not knowing these things may not detract from the enjoyment of watching the movie, but they make it harder to wave a clear flag to the voting members of the Academy.  The Oscars themselves did no better.


Their understated promotional campaign was not much different than other years, but most of the show was so dull and wandering, that cleverly curated, well-edited pieces in the middle seemed out of place.  A cinematic hero’s piece and a celebration of great animation were nice, but the opening and tone of the show had fallen so flat to me, it was hard to recapture any underlying, driving excitement that this was THE OSCARS.  Offering only mere glimpses of what I expect from this event, uneven pacing lost the overall tempo and never seemed to get on track.  Musical performances were forgettable as well, while past ones have been amazing.  If an event as big as the Oscars can overlook the talent and tools available to them, what elements might the rest of us be leaving unused in our marketing messages?  Who or what is the talent in your brand to trumpet your message? Think about the competitors in your marketplace.  How do you become an industry leader rather than an also ran?


Ellen joked about the last time she hosted; many of the same people were nominated. While mildly funny, it only added to the “so, we’re here doing this again” feeling that permeated the broadcast.  But take the time to consider who in your industry is Meryl Streep (the successful, dependable stalwart, who seemingly always delivers.) And who are the newcomers like Jennifer Lawrence and Lupita Nyong'othat are trying to establish themselves?  Just as there seem to be actors and actresses who are always in the hunt, the same is true for companies.  How do you break into the club that is “top of mind” when people think about your business category? Meryl Streep has been nominated 18 times, though how many wins does she have? In the public mind currently, it doesn’t matter; if she’s working, you know where she’ll be sitting come Oscar night, and you readily accept that she will be there. It’s where she “belongs,” even with only three wins in eighteen nominations.  Jennifer Lawrence, more of an upstart last year, now also wears the brand of Oscar winner.  That changes her choices and the perception of her as well as the marketing message that now precedes her work.  Are you in an industry that assigns importance to awards?  You must tell the right story if you want to be the first name called for the sale or on awards night.


With your own business, be mindful the message you are sending connects people to the same interaction they find with your product.  Advertising is very likely to be customers’ first contact with you. This message needs to indicate what you are clearly and quickly.  Are you are billing yourself as “vegetables” or “candy”? And does this fit what your audience wants from your type of business? Answer those questions and others like them, then make sure your business fulfills the promises you make in those answers.  Think of it this way: when’s the last time a movie disappointed you because in retrospect the preview felt misleading?  Not a good feeling is it?  That’s what you are doing to your customers when you present them the wrong message in your advertising.

I thought Jimmy Kimmel’s post-Oscar special did a much better job of staying on brand for their audience than the Oscar’s did.  Kimmel’s mocking of the awards show and grand scale movie-making by recasting viral YouTube hits with famous faces was right on point.  Knowing their audience, they made the reasonable bet that more people watching have seen Keyboard Cat and Hamster On A Piano, than Best Picture Winner 12 Years A Slave.  The Oscar broadcast missed this type of opportunity by not using rich storylines or plots from nominated films to tie in with their comedian host.  When the most notable bits of the evening are Ellen taking a cellphone selfie with celebrities, or passing out delivery pizza—I feel cheated.  It leaves me uninterested, knowing that most of the star involvement with the host this year could have been performed by cardboard cutouts.  So many stars and even the real life people whose stories were up for an award were untapped.  A fake standoff with the real Captain Phillips waiting in line for the bathroom with Kevin Spacey could have been fun, but no humor or even drama was mined from any of these presences and that detracted from the production.


With the passing of another Oscars, we are reminded that audiences love movies, good content, and good commercials.  What a marketing message needs to do is fuse entertainment and information together; strong marketing messages that fit your product.   Think back to the Super Bowl ads, which ones do you remember now a month later?  Did any of them guide you to a new product, or change your feelings on an old one? Things to consider as you craft an effective message for your audience. The Oscars this year did not live up to the entertainment punch that I’ve come to expect from this brand according to their messaging.  Not a complete disaster, just disappointing and empty.  A bright spot here and there, but the broadcast felt more like a generic blond guy in a tux, than an actual Brad Pitt—a seat filler until the real Oscars shows up.  Don’t let that be your product with a false marketing message that leads customers to you, only to be confused and disappointed when you’re not who they were led to expect.

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