What Marketers Can Learn From the Oscars

This Sunday, as we settle into our chairs to watch the speeches, the snubs, and of course, the outfits, we could learn something we can apply to our own marketing plans.

Below, a few marketing lessons from Hollywood’s biggest night.

Anything Can Happen – Be Ready to Adapt

While we may think Eddie Redmayne is the favorite for Best Actor, remember when Adrien Brody beat out Daniel Day-Lewis? Or when Shakespeare in Love bested Saving Private Ryan? Just as there are no shoo-ins at the Academy Awards, there are no sure things in marketing campaigns. Despite months of planning, conducting consumer focus groups, and refining your creative, you won’t know how your message resonates until it’s out in the wild. So launch and iterate, and be prepared to adapt your campaign on the fly.

I recall a story digital visionary Tim Armstrong once shared when we were back working at Google. (He told the story publicly during a keynote at an NRF event, so I feel comfortable sharing it here.) He had been working on an early AdWords campaign for an automotive company, and the company didn’t know which creative to use. They had some ads about APR financing, and one ad about a truck club. The brand’s leadership was sure the low financing would be the best message (in fact, they’d built their whole campaign around it, including billboard and display units), but there was one guy in their group who was hung up on the truck club. Could they humor him and run that ad, too? Tim told them of course, and then something surprising happened: The truck club messaging outperformed the financing messaging handily. It took a while to sink in, but ultimately it did, and the client shifted the rest of its campaign strategy accordingly.

Lesson: Be nimble. Be quick to fail. And adapt, adapt, adapt!

There Is Such a Thing as Bad Publicity – Avoid It If You Can

In a world of limited media, perhaps any press was good press. Today, not so much. Despite having stylists and unlimited budgets, many stars will be relegated to the “Worst Dressed” lists come Monday morning. Hopefully, none of the outfits will be as bad as Bjork’s swan dress, but you never know.

Recently, we’ve seen brands get attention for all the wrong reasons. Security breaches from Target to Sony, off-color remarks by Lululemon now ex-chief executive (CEO), and multiple Twitter feed hacks and gaffs all come to mind. We work hard to build brand equity, and inevitably some unfortunate incidents beyond your control (including some of the ones mentioned above) will occur. But avoid doing silly things that can squander it. All brands want to have their “You can still dunk in the dark” moment, but don’t force it.

Lesson: Be authentic to your brand values and brand voice. Let your goals dictate where and how you engage consumers, not the other way around.

Use the Bully Pulpit – Especially When the Cause Is Bigger Than Your Brand

This awards season seemed to be the culmination of cause marketing in film and television, from civil rights issues in Selma, LGBT issues in Transparent, and Joanne Froggatt of Downton Abbey speaking out against rape to building greater awareness for diseases like ALS, Alzheimer’s, and disorders like PTSD.

Perhaps this is a good time to re-examine your brand’s own cause marketing and community outreach initiatives. As eMarketer reported, 53 percent of consumers have purchased products because of a brand’s cause-related initiatives, showing that doing good is also good business.

Lesson: What role does your brand play in your community? How can you deepen that connection in service of a larger cause?

Fish Where the Fish Are

A number of B2C brands will launch new ad campaigns during the Oscars. Why? Because tentpole events like the Academy Awards, the Grammys, and the Super Bowl have large, captive audiences of consumers (us!), all the better to jumpstart awareness for a product or service.

In our world of digital media, there’s a seemingly endless parade of industry events. Instead of trying to be everywhere, select a few tentpole events that will anchor your year and concentrate a portion of your media spend during key moments throughout the year. In my experience, fewer, targeted sponsorships, hosted events, or campaigns tend to deliver greater impact than smaller, more numerous efforts. As we head into SXSW and the Upfronts and Newfront season, think about how your brand can stand out. Where will you find a captive audience of potential customers? What will you tell them once you have them in one place?

Lesson: Start with the question “Who is your audience and what do they care about?” Then go about engaging them at the most relevant events with content that delivers utility.

Everyone Loves Awards

Agencies pride themselves on winning them, and clients love to receive them. Submit your great campaigns to be considered (for vanity or to help win more budget!), sure, but the act of writing up your work with a view toward results is rewarding in and of itself. I used to call it the “80/20” rule with my teams – 80 percent of the work is doing the marketing, 20 percent is reporting back on how it went – and sharing your learning with the larger team. After all, if a marketing campaign falls in the forest…The awards submission process will force you to focus on goals, strategies, and outcomes – all of which are useful to inform future campaigns.

Lesson: Take stock of your work and its impact. Invest the time to submit your best campaigns to be considered.

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