The Oscars are, whilst almost as large a televisual draw as that 'other' big event in February, largely free from the burden of expectation when it comes to advertising. The fact is that nobody really talks about the ad breaks of the Academy Awards, even though it's one of the biggest nights of the year when it comes to sheer audience volume and engagement, something that's particularly true in the social media age (more on that later). Perhaps it's because the Super Bowl has famously become something of a competition for adland, where the largest assorted agencies and brands compete for likes and shares by wheeling out their brightest and most audience-pleasing campaigns? Or perhaps it's because it's seen as more elitist and 'specialist' than the Super Bowl? The real theatre of the whole Super Bowl ad break bonanza has also arguably been lost in recent years, with most major Super Bowl ads being leaked days, and sometimes even weeks prior to the big game.
For the Oscars this Sunday night (February 26), meanwhile, we'll be going in mostly blind. Does this mean we'll be seeing more creative and inventive spots, the kind of which would have been deemed too outrageous or 'not safe enough' for Super Bowl broadcast? That remains to be seen, but given that most viewers of the Oscars will probably be more open minded when it comes to the craft of cinema than your average Super Bowl viewer, it seems obvious that brands would reserve their more artistically ambitious cuts for the the red carpet. Oscar ad space is also a lot cheaper than Super Bowl ad space, though it's still the second most expensive spot in adland, with a 30 second spot for the show likely to set brands back anywhere between $1.9 million and $2.0 million (compared to around $5 million for the Super Bowl). And that's just for the slot! Either way, I personally believe the Super Bowl ads this year were, largely playing it a little too safe, so I'm optimistic that the Oscars might throw us a few more (probably heavily political) curve balls.
The Old Idiot Box
Many younger movie fans with attention spans not built to withstand the 3 hour barrage of smug backslapping that is the Academy Awards will be getting their Oscar news from social media, that almost goes without saying, but does that necessarily mean that TV is irrelevant? Certainly not in my eyes. For one thing, the live Oscars broadcast is the one medium that will still reach more people than any other, particularly with older film fans who would rather sit back with a bottle of wine than hunch over a tablet. Whilst viewership is predicted to be down overall from past years, the Oscars TV broadcast is expected to raise at least the equal of the $115 million in ad revenue raised last year. There are also more commercial spots than ever before. Last year, the awards opened up to 80 commercials, up a quarter from 2012 where there were 60, hinting that demand is up, even if the same cannot be said of ratings. Growing to meet demand, the Oscars offers 45% more network ad time than it did in five years and the top spenders can blow tens of millions on making their brand stand out amongst the glitz and the glamour and the tears and tiaras. So no. Traditional TV advertising is still alive and well, but that doesn't mean it can't learn a thing or two from it's younger cousin.
Social Media and The Oscars 2017
Ignoring, for a second, how social media has changed the way we absorb, share and engage with content like the Oscars (my industry insiders will go into more detail on that later), many companies are using social media as a tool to promote their brand or their services in unique, interesting ways that leverage our fascination with the event and its nominees. Betting site Mr Gamez, for example, has created an infographic (see the bottom of the article) looking at the previous Oscar winners of the last 20 years, building a profile of the frontrunners in each category. From the winner’s height and hair colour, to the average running time of the best film winners, they have predicted the best match from this year’s nominees, according to these profiles. The results appear to align with what almost everyone other industry has been saying, proving that statistics rarely lie, but that they also often take the fun out of events like this.
The design team at Shutterstock, meanwhile, have chosen to take a more oblique route by commemorating the genius of the late Andy Warhol. They have done this by, rather ingeniously, creating posters for each of this year’s Best Picture nominees in the style of a particular pop artist, pop art being the movement that Warhol arguably kickstarted. It is an annual tradition for Shutterstock’s design team to challenge each other to create posters following the rules and aesthetic of a particular designer or design movement, but this year the stars appear to have aligned, as the results (above) are truly sensational!
With Hollywood under the microscope, every facet of the ceremony and its inhabitants is studied over in immense detail, even down to the colour co-ordination. The digital marketing experts at Search Laboratory have commissioned a report examining “What Colour is an Academy Award Winning Dress?” in order to underline this fascination with Oscar dresses. The results (above) seems to suggest that, whilst colours have been getting bolder over the last 50 years, the most common colour is a sort of muted brown, and also that, in general, black is always a safe bet. Note that the colour chart only refers to female award winners, however, with the blokes, as ever, happy to continue getting away with the standard suit and tie. I could easily dovetail here into a spiel about the double-standards still inflicted upon women at the Oscars, but this is neither the time, nor the place. We're talking data here, not revolution.
Social media will also play its part in predicting the big winners of the night, with Twitter and Facebook natter helping to paint a surprisingly scientific picture of the most popular nominees. YouTube has gone a step further by ranking the most popular Oscar movie trailers, democratising the vote, if it was decided by how many people tuned in to the trailer. Google's video platform compared the performance of the nine Best Picture nominated movies, La La Land, Arrival, Hacksaw Ridge, Lion, Fences, Hidden Figures, Manchester By The Sea, Moonlight and finally Hell or High Water. Accumulatively across YouTube, the Best Picture nominees garnered three million hours of viewing time, not bad for short video teasers. Whether the amount of trailer views genuinely aligns with trophy wins remains to be seen, but the very fact that people are taking it seriously speaks volumes. Anyway, if you wish to psyche yourself up for Sunday night, you can find the trailers, from most viewed to least, below.
La La Land – 22.2 million views
Media Agency: Mindshare
Arrival – 16.99 million views
Media Agency: MEC
Hacksaw Ridge – 14 million views
Media Agency: Mindshare
Lion – 6.9 million views
Studio: The Weinstein Company
Media Agency: Palisades
Fences – 6 million views
Media Agency: MEC
Hidden Figures – 5.9 million views
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Media Agency: Assembly
Manchester by the Sea – 5.76 million views
Media Agency: Mindshare
Moonlight – 4.77 million views
Media Agency: Operam
Hell or High Water – 4 million views
Media Agency: Mindshare
Rob Kabrovski, VP of Accounts, EMEA from Adaptly, offers a few suggestions for brands hoping to jump on the Oscars 'cord-cutters' bandwagon and focus their efforts on social media .
Last year’s Oscars and Grammys drew a combined audience of over 58 million, but total TV viewership dropped as more would-be viewers became so called, “cord-cutters”. Social media engagement, however, increased year-over-year, indicating that fans consumed awards season content from sources other than TV. Last year, the Oscars generated 3.9 billion Twitter impressions and 67 million Facebook interactions, up 5 and 15%, respectively. With more of the videos and conversations buzzing on social media, brands are wise to include these channels in this year’s Oscars advertising strategy.
Join in on the fun by focusing your paid social messaging around the nominated actors and movies that will resonate most with your brand's target audience.
Use paid social as an extension of advertising efforts on other channels. If you are also running ads on TV, be sure to maintain brand consistency across platforms to convey one cohesive message.
Viewers of the Oscars will most likely be engaging with social media on their smartphones, so design creative with the mobile experience in mind. That means vertical video, shorter attention spans, and sound off for Facebook and Instagram.
Twitter’s event and keyword targeting allows advertisers to leverage the buzz and conversation around the Oscars to reach audiences interested in the show. Tap into real-time conversations around the event and be prepared to respond to your audience when they engage with your content.
Users will be Snapchatting their viewing parties and following their favourite celebrities for behind-the-scenes content, so placing Snap Ads between user Stories is a great way for brands to be seen and become a part of the Oscars experience.
Ria Campbell, head of content at Southpaw, feels that a cleverly executed social post could possibly help a brand 'win the oscars' this year.
Brands need to tread carefully legally, as it can be very difficult to find clever and creative ways to get involved if you're not an official sponsor. Advertisers can easily fall into the trap of just ‘reporting’ on an event or recycling what has happened, instead of producing creative content that adds value, supports or compliments it and makes a real connection with the audience. A cleverly executed social post around an event as iconic as the Oscars, such as Lego’s Oscar statue in 2015, can create substantial brand engagement on digital channels in the moment. However, unless the content goes viral, like the Samsung Galaxy Oscars selfie in 2014, these ‘quick win’ strategies are more effective at generating social engagement and short-term talk-ability than long-term brand awareness or ROI. With the exception of brand events such as John Lewis at Christmas, clever product placement stunts are more likely to go viral and create buzz via social channels than a pre-planned marketing campaign.
Richard Anson, founder of Reevoo, muses on celebrity endorsement.
The Oscars is a curious case - while some celebrities are criticised for being out of touch and elitist, others are supremely relatable. This is a conundrum for brands, especially in this new ‘advocacy economy’ in which the voice of the people is prized above all else. Finding the right endorser can be a shortcut to customer trust and devotion. There’s nothing wrong with a celebrity endorsement, as long as it meets some basic criteria. Firstly, that there’s some kind of existing connection (however tenuous) between the product and the person and secondly, that the relationship is transparent. Given the fake news, public disillusionment and fragility that saturates the modern world, audiences WANT to trust. The brands that give people somewhere to direct it will be the ones that benefit.
A trend report from Voices.com examine how voice actors continue to not get their due at the Oscars.
Each year at the Oscars, voice acting is a category that gets overlooked during the film industry’s big night. In anticipation of the 89th Academy Award show this February 26th, the lack of recognition for voice actors has became a hot-topic, not only within the voice acting industry, but also the film industry. Going into 2017, celebrity soundalikes will not be as prevalent as they were in 2015 and 2016. While brands were eager to have the sounds of Morgan Freeman and Tim Allen, emerging trends are indicating that producers and consumers alike are looking for something a little more “everyday.” The new type of voice that everyone will be hearing in 2017 is one that isn’t perfect; it’s slightly flawed and more real, like that of your best friend. It’s the guy or girl next door. It’s genuine, and sounds nothing like a celebrity endorsement. Consumers are becoming increasingly savvy, and knowing that they’re being sold to has the opposite result of what advertisers want. Consumer behaviour is impacting the design of the ads and marketing campaigns we’ll be exposed to in the coming year. Moving out of 2016, 17% of professional creatives report that they are using - or being asked to use - celebrity soundalikes less. Over 27% flat out refuse to use that strategy at all, and 5% are holding onto the trend, sharing that they’re using a celebrity sound more. About 63% say that there is no change at all for them.
Kay Brown, PR and Social Manager at Blueclaw, feels that speed is crucial when it comes to reacting to events like the Oscars.
With the Oscars around the corner many of my peers will be considering their strategies for their companies and clients ahead of the awards this weekend so with that in mind, how should brands and agencies capitalise on engagement during this period?
Firstly, as much as we all might want the best imagery possible, timing is very much of the essence so if you’re brand is on show, tell people about it in real time. Dolce and Gabbana have historically been one of the better fashion houses highlighting their designs adorned upon glowing celebrities whereas the likes of Versace have been known to share press imagery the next day when the moment has passed. When sharing products you have celebrity endorsement for, don’t forget to tell people about it (i.e. product name/collection). If a fellow social media user has an instant reaction of ‘I can’t live without this’ they might scour the internet to find it or ask the super sleuths of Mumsnet but chances are that they’ll forget about it.
If you’re managing the account of a brand who isn’t directly on show at the awards you have a far greater opportunity for reach if you share content that isn’t directly related to your products or services. Many brands have made their customers the ‘real winners’ with snapchat filters or quick design responses and while this is a tired concept now, I expect we’ll see more of it this weekend. The most refreshing reinvention of this concept was in response to The LEGO Movie being snubbed when nominations were released and they consequently created their own LEGO Oscars which were pictured with a whole host of celebrities during the ceremony (including the infamous Elle DeGeneres selfie). It was a perfect example of friendly photobombing which created a huge talking point even now two years later.
Our social feeds will be incredibly cluttered during the Oscars period with brands, celebrities, filmmakers and commentators trying to get their tweets to break through the noise so be prepared, accept that in the moment you might not have the glossiest image but you could be the quickest to respond and you need to weigh up which is the best for your brand, be clear with your message so people can understand and engage as the scroll past tens of tweets, and lastly, if the brand voice allows, don’t follow the crowd. Be the voice that people remember in a week’s time.
Matt Phelan, CEO of 4Ps, part of NetBooster Group, believes that the rise of streaming sites has had a major effect on the Oscars and advertising by association.
Sunday marks the 89th Academy Awards, when the biggest names from the film industry will descend on Hollywood to find out which film/actor/actress has outshone the competition. This year’s event will be different, however, as streaming services such as Amazon and Netflix will be competing with the major production companies for best documentary (Netflix, for 13th) and best film, actor and supporting actress (Amazon, which owns the rights to Manchester by the Sea). This is a significant development for the industry, as it shows that TV is no longer viewed as just a poor relation to film. Innovative streaming services like Netflix are now producing original content that is drawing in A-list actors who were previously only interested in major blockbusters. Without a doubt, the massive number of people watching this content via smartphones and tablets has helped to drive this change, as more and more viewers are streaming films to watch whilst they are on the go. Social media has clearly played a key role in this shift as well, partly because it allows users to share their own stories alongside their favourite films.
Platforms like Snapchat and Instagram actively encourage this kind of storytelling. The opportunity for brands, therefore, is to figure out how to collaborate with both filmmakers and viewers in order to join in – and profit from – this activity. Brands looking to use social media to capitalise on the Oscars’ global performance also need to be prepared for the unexpected. Award shows always seem to have a moment to remember (think Jennifer Lawrence tripping over her dress on route to collecting her award), so companies need to be ready to participate in the social conversations surrounding the event, as long as they remember to stay on-message and on-brand. Or course, the first step is for brands to consider whether the Oscars is even relevant to their target market. After all, there is little point putting time and money into a campaign surrounding this type of event if it’s not something the brand’s target audience would enjoy. For the rest, however, the blurred lines between television, film and social media are creating a unique opportunity for advertisers to make the most of prestigious events like the Oscars. If anything, we’re likely to see even more interaction between social media activity and traditional TV storytelling going forward. For brands, the key will be to personalise their online storytelling, so that it resonates with the target audience and reflects their values and beliefs.
Tara Beard-Knowland, Director at Ipsos Connect, believes that celebrity endorsements are just relevant in the social media age as they were in years prior.
Celebrity endorsements are equally relevant, just in different ways. People still look up to celebrities, but the way that they find and relate to those celebrities is different, especially because many celebrities are much more accessible than they used to be, due to social media. Equally though, it is worth bearing in mind that many people know that celebrities get paid to promote products (probably more than they did 15-20 years ago) and it’s likely that the average person takes any celebrity endorsement with a grain of salt. However, this seems to be less for people who are real fans of a particular celebrity.
Brands, meanwhile, should be encouraging more social media following and brand engagement by remaining relevant. If they create content during the time and engage regularly, then they need to do more than just sell products/services. They need to actively engage with relevant connections – and these need to be things people care about not just ‘our logo is gold, the Oscar is gold, it’s magic!’. Otherwise, there’s no point as people won’t get it; they’ll just forget it. Speaking of relevance, TV broadcasts, I feel, will continue to remain a relevant platform, because, although they don’t get the same level of reach that they used to, they still reach more people than any other single medium and give a better chance to tell a real story. But you can’t rely on that alone. Strategy needs to include ways to meet people in multiple ways and, ideally, build up the story over time. It is also worth noting that it’s easy to overestimate how many people don’t live view events like this on TV. Certainly in the UK we know penetration of catch up TV/ alternative viewing, while growing, lags very far behind live viewing, especially outside AB socioeconomic groups.
Richard Dunmall, President of Media iQ, sees the real-time conversations catalysed by social media during the Oscars as a dream scenario for advertisers.
Social media, in particular, Twitter, is one of the key platforms that provides real-time audience insight as and when live events are broadcast globally. With conversations happening before, during and after huge events, this is a dream scenario for any advertiser. Competition to stand out is rife and often every brand wants to be a part of every part of the conversation – something which is near impossible to achieve effectively. However, targeted/personalised adverts that react to the event as it happens are much more likely to grab the audience’s attention. The key to this is utilising the data available to marketers. Capturing the conversations taking place on social platforms provide insight into what exactly people are interested in meaning brands can target them with suitable content.
An event like the Oscars, in particular, is a treasure trove of social media data that advertisers can harness and action to increase brand awareness. And as it’s so popular on a global level conversations are likely to be taking place online, weeks in advance, as well as during the event and even after. Data insight, therefore, provides the capability to completely adapt a campaign throughout every stage and generate specific ads for key moments. Media iQ is able to amplify this through its tool, Social Sync. By gauging positive and negative social media sentiment, brands can reach out to their target audience tweeting or posting about the Oscars in reaction to spikes in popular themes, for example, when Leonardo DiCaprio finally won an Oscar last year. Audiences would have been vigorously tweeting, so any savvy brand would have applied this data to push out advertising around this significant moment to those commenting on the win, drawing attention and, in turn, building brand awareness. To be successful, marketers need to combine data from social media with specific insights about targeting audiences to then enable precise targeting and deliver successful campaigns around live events.
Sergio Lopez, Head of Integrated Production at McCann Worldgroup EMEA, thinks that The Oscars is the perfect platform for fashion and beauty brands to connect with their audiences.
The Oscars have become a hybrid of award show and LA fashion week. It is the perfect platform for fashion and beauty advertisers to connect with the audience as it is not limited to a three-hour event. The fashion and beauty category is possibly one of the most holistic and sophisticated one in our business. By using celebrity endorsements, brands are engaging with the consumer weeks before and after the event by using every format and channel available, from the celebrities social media channels to magazines to special programming in television. Consumer spend through mobile devices grew over 60% in 2016. The biggest opportunity comes from the linkage of second screen (mobile) by building intelligent ecosystems in which content and data work together to convert the exposure towards awareness and immediate purchase. When a celebrity endorsing a product is being featured on a television special we need to make it as seamless for the consumer to obtain more information and buy it. Live events like the Oscars are a great opportunity for these brands to gain credibility with a consumer that is losing trust in advertising and media. They are able to see how well the people they admire look without going through Photoshop and how products that are available to everybody make these celebrities look great.
Trevor Hardy, CEO at The Future Laboratory, sees potential in combating the heavily structured nature of the event by creating surprising, engaging content.
Unlike other big, global TV moments, The Oscars have not been very accessible to brand involvement; especially compared with the Super Bowl where brands and marketing are as much a part of the theatre as the sport event itself. The opportunity for marketing, and especially social media activity, is to break out of the highly structured format and formula of The Oscars, but in doing so add to the cultural capital of the event. The temptation will be to hijack a fleeting moment and chase 'likes', but successful initiatives will be the ones that create engagement outside of the set-piece moments on the red carpet and the speeches; and create new stars for the show beyond the host, winners and best-dressed. It may be that the most effective way to capitalise on The Oscars is to be more surprising and unexpected; to combat the structured nature of the event. Creating seemingly random moments with unexpected celebrities doing surprising things.
Benjamin Hiorns is a freelance writer and struggling musician from Kidderminster in the UK who fancies La La Land for all the big gongs. Though he has yet to actually see it.