How to Win the Oscars (and Your Next Digital Campaign)

If you’ve ever thought that advertising associated with the Academy Awards doesn’t generate the kind of interest that Super Bowl spots do, you’re right. Year after year the event (recently rebranded as “The Oscars”) is touted as a global celebration of entertainment, the apex of celebrity glamour. Yet the advertisers who pay big money for related TV spots often seem to fade into the background. Their campaigns are overlooked in lieu of “Best Dressed” lists. Their ads are outdone by hosting gaffs.

The night after this year’s ceremony, my mother asked me why this is. Isn’t the show a huge draw for consumers? Doesn’t it have incredible reach? The answer is yes – and no. The audience for the program is undeniably huge, but not titanic – nowhere near the “billion people” celebrities have laid claim to in the past. The Oscars typically pull in about a third of the U.S. consumers that the Super Bowl does, less than a fifth of the audience for the Olympics, and – to really put it in perspective – half the viewers of the final episode of “Cheers.” While it’s far and away the biggest entertainment telecast and one of the year’s most anticipated nights of TV, it rarely spawns the same jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring campaigns we see from other major television events.

Consider all of this for a moment…and then forget it, because Oscar advertising is smack in the middle of a revolution, and it’s all unfolding online. This year, 8.9 million tweets were sent and received during the telecast. The “Oscar App” was downloaded 432,000 times – a 16 percent increase over last year. According to TV by the Numbers, consumers spent over 33.4 million minutes engaging with digital content on Oscar Sunday.

Once, marketers watched the telecast and waited for the viewer stats to roll in. Now, they monitor and tweet from mission control centers in real time. Having access to such an engaged audience and the ability to shape and react to social chatter will undoubtedly change the way brands look at Oscar ads. In fact, it already has. Take a look at how marketers navigated the new digital paradigm this year, and how you can do the same in your day-to-day campaigns.

  1. Building momentum from existing ads. Good advertising is about good storytelling, and brands that have a story to tell shouldn’t hesitate to reveal a second (or third, or fourth) chapter as a part of a new campaign. It had been over 30 years since mustard brand Grey Poupon aired its famed “Pardon Me” ad, but the brand brought it back during this year’s awards – along with “lost footage” designed to appeal to modern tastes. A suspenseful TV spot acted as a teaser that drove viewers to a microsite, where they could see the rest.
  2. Enticing with incentives. It might have been enough for Grey Poupon to engage viewers with online video, but the content available for viewing at afforded the chance to win prizes, too. Users were encouraged to view the video as many times as necessary to find elusive hot spots that, when clicked, formed a collection of campaign-themed items. When they had managed to collect them all, users could enter a Facebook contest and possibly win one of the upper crust items.


  3. Adding star power. Samsung followed up its recent Super Bowl spot with another star-studded ad, this time featuring film director Tim Burton. The presence of the Hollywood legend was sure to generate interest and buzz, but it’s his use of the tablet product to demonstrate his film ideas (and its simultaneous usage by company employees to showcase other work-friendly features) that makes the ad great.


  4. Running with a theme. Samsung’s Tim Burton spot was one of six ads the brand aired during The Oscars, all ranging in length from 30 to 90 seconds. The ads worked individually; had a viewer missed one she wouldn’t have been at a loss. Together, though, they sent a cohesive message about using Samsung Galaxy products at work as well as for play. They even featured the same cast of characters, which consumers got to know a little better with every ad. Moving forward, that gives viewing the spots as a collection on Samsung’s YouTube channel (which, naturally, links to the brand’s product site) huge appeal.
  5. Getting emotional. As a long-time sponsor of the Academy Awards, J.C. Penney aired six new ads of its own on Sunday, all in keeping with its poignant “Yours Truly” letters-to-America theme. Where the brand really shone, however, was on Twitter. While live tweeting the telecast, social media managers posted Oscar-themed images promoting J.C. Penney products without ever straying from the language used in the TV ads. Cross-media consistency and positive product recall aside, the effect was absolutely charming.



This year’s Oscars provided some of the most exciting digital promotions we’ve seen from the show to date. By next year, campaigns created for the event – and the way in which marketers choose to deliver them – might just be ready to steal the spotlight.

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