Marketing the Oscars

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He endured a bear mauling, a nap in a horse and the harsh, freezing wilderness of the North American tundra. So Leonardo DiCaprio will be crossing everything in the hope he’s done enough to merit his first Oscar, having been nominated for his role as a trapper in the critically acclaimed Revenant. As viewers tune in to witness Leo’s potential victory during the ceremony on 28th February, marketers for big and small brands alike will be looking to exploit this massive audience, hoping their campaigns can dominate the chatter around the Oscars and win over potential consumers.

Brands on the red carpet

It’s one of the most watched and talked about events of the year, as well as being one of the most expensive advertising slots. In 2014 alone, the show attracted 40 million viewers and prompted 17.1 million tweets worldwide. Meanwhile, the cost of a 30 second ad was $1.76 million. Like fur trading in the early 19th century icy wastes of North America, the opportunities are huge, but the risks are high. Only the best succeed – and it all comes down to good planning, as well as the ability to exploit a situation.

A lesson in building Oscars success

Last year, as the stars walked away with their prizes in hand, there was only one real show winner. Despite surprisingly not receiving a nomination for the Best Animated Film category, Lego stole the show.

Firstly, a month prior to the Oscars, the popular toy manufacturer acknowledged its snub, when the film’s director, Phil Lord, consoled himself by posting a perfect Oscar replica built out of Lego.

Then, during the show, Lego’s Oscar nominated song ‘Everything is awesome’, was performed, at the end of which performers ran towards the audience distributing Lego Oscar replicas to several lucky stars. The reaction was better than anything they could have hoped for, or won. Not only were actors surprised and delighted with their trophies – with many proudly displaying them to the cameras and press – the pictures and videos that captured the moments spread on social media like wildfire.

According to data from Amobee Brand Intelligence, Lego dominated the night, with close to 47,000 social mentions and 44 per cent of the Oscars discussion. The trick paid off, giving the brand $7.5 million of free advertising.

Others have also succeeded – and Samsung probably couldn’t believe its luck when its smartphone was used to take the famous Oscars selfie, which would become the most retweeted photo of the year. And NASA put Gravity’s achievements into perspective by showing a live feed of actual astronauts on the space station congratulating the film’s accomplishments.

But competition to standout is fierce – and where some brands become top dog, others, even actual sponsors, get little reward for their investment. The 2014 awards saw Pepsi do little off the back of its own adverts, and even saw arch rivals Coke get a free win over them when event host Ellen DeGeneres’ pizza delivery turned up in Coca Cola branded boxes. Though there’s a certain amount of opportunity exploitation, all the successes were because of copious amounts of planning by the brands – including the Samsung selfie. It was revealed that the Korean tech giant, as a main show sponsor, had asked DeGeneres to use the phone during the event and that she even had to be trained on how to use it (though she supposedly returned to her iPhone backstage). That said, they were very grateful for her ingenious use of the device.

Meanwhile, at the BAFTAs

Seeing what a few stunts can do, across the pond, BAFTA organisers attempted to liven-up their own ceremony this year, by introducing a custom of US sports stadiums – the kiss cam. Hoping to capture some of the social media buzz, cameramen wandered through a worried looking audience picking out celeb couples who’d be willing to smooch.

Whilst the clips were certainly share worthy, perhaps the biggest reaction was gleaned from Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander refusing to participate in what was such an awkward exchange (it was cut from the BBC broadcast). DiCaprio on the other hand came off much better, not only for his Best Actor win, but also his determination to kiss Dame Maggie Smith.

Controversy strikes

This year, although the nominees are arguably not as strong as in previous years, it hasn’t stopped the ceremony attracting attention, albeit it for the wrong reasons. #Oscarssowhite has been trending since the nominees were announced back in January and that’s likely to continue during and even after the ceremony. Although no advertisers have pulled out from their slots – it’s no FIFA World Cup – one can’t help but be intrigued as to how brands will attempt to navigate potential pit falls. No brand will want to be associated with controversy, but no brand will want to miss out on one of the top TV events of the year. Some are even predicting that the controversy might result in higher ratings than 2015.

Either way, marketers will have to up their game for the 2016 Academy Awards as the event gets ever closer. Plans will need to be firmly in place, and they will surely all be eagerly watching the awards, waiting for that perfect moment to comment on or post their rehearsed content, in the hope it gets picked up by the social chatter. It will certainly make a compelling spectacle, if only to see DiCaprio’s reaction should he be pipped to the Best Actor award …

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