And the academy award goes to… marketing?

Posted By Naters Philip on 24th February 2017

It’s almost the eve of the 89th Academy Awards and while some of us are booking the day after off work, squeezing in some vital last minute cinema visits or praising/slagging off the movies nominated, we’re more concerned with something else: the marketing of the Oscars.

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[Image credit: iStock/maksicfoto]

There has arguably been more ‘buzz’ about the Oscars this year than ever before, as half of the Golden Globes evening was spent looking ahead to the Academy Awards. Although there were several film titles to pick out of the the mix of conversation – including Hidden Figures, Fences, Lion and that one with Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling – there were other hot topics off the press that concerned awards season.

For several years now, the topic of gender and race inequality has plagued the celebratory message of awards season in general, with particular venom targeted towards the Academy. People – those who are both involved in the process and outside as observers – have criticised the lack of women and the saturation of white actors who are nominated for Oscars. This has resulted in the mass media and public questioning the fairness of the Academy Awards.


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Equality has been a particularly hot button issue already in 2017, particularly with Donald Trump becoming President of the United States, and now actors, board members and the viewing public have become concerned with how future awards seasons will be affected by his archaic politics and those who agree with him. Will this further negatively impact the lack of equality that the Academy has been accused of?

I believe the topic of equality isn’t a surface issue and I ask: how is it the board decides who to choose as their winner for ‘best actress’ etc and really, does it all go back to how the films and the nominations/nominees are marketed?

To carry out a successful marketing campaign – for anything at all, whether it’s for a multi-million-dollar blockbuster or a pair of shoes – you first need a bulletproof strategy. What are we marketing, who do we want to market it to and how do we get it in their faces? From there, you launch an investigation into who your audience is, what they want you to produce, content that they wish to absorb and the place they want to find it.


[Image credit: iStock/IvelinRadkow]

Adweek wrote a brilliant article last year titled ‘Inside the relentless marketing push behind every Oscar winner‘, that likened celebrities promoting their films on talk shows to politicians like Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump on the campaign trail. It’s not much of a stretch, although the end result is arguably less offensive and certainly less impactful on the state of the world.

The article states that it’s the work of the PR machine that results in Oscar noms and the eventual wins, rather than on the true quality of performance, production or direction. A lot of money is spent on impressing the voters of the Academy each year and it’s always great if you have a big marketing budget but it’s not so good for the smaller players. Large production companies spend millions of dollars before awards season buying digital and print ads, running press conferences and trotting out their actors on TV shows.

All of these are valid marketing tactics and can do a lot to spread and strengthen a message but when it comes to awards season, there are questionable ‘marketing’ techniques used to curry favour with influential board members.

Throwing expensive PR A-list soirees for the bods at the Academy to attend before voting begins is one of the main ways that studios tend to influence the powers that be – whether this is done consciously or not. Of course, I’m not so heavy-handed as to say that Oscar season is the only time this type of campaigning is pedalled, as it happens fairly consistently when new theatre shows are rolled out to the masses. But, seeing as winning an Oscar is viewed as one of the highest accolades, is it too much to ask that the Academy rises above the petty attention-grabbing of other awards marketing campaigns? Yes, yes it is.

Essentially, and when it’s at its bare bones, the Academy is a business. It and the staff within it need to make money and the only way they can do this is by influencing the people around them.

Scott Feinberg, Oscars journo for The Hollywood Reporter, says an Oscar campaign has to tell a story and that “strategists refer to it as ‘the narrative’ […] they’re creating and controlling a narrative, very similar to a political campaign”. Marketing Hollywood movies for awards season isn’t for the weak-minded or faint of heart – there are people who are losing sleep over whether the movie and actors are going to win awards because this can mean the difference between the success and failure of future/potential projects

If we accept that the Academy is just a business – as are production houses etc – are their marketing campaigns really so awful? I guess it depends on your point of view. Speaking to a colleague in the Axonn Manchester office about La La Land, we discussed the stratospheric rise in popularity of this film with its seven Golden Globes and the unfortunate landslide of verbal detritus that has also been flung at it.

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[Image credit: The New Yorker]

This movie is an excellent example a mutant strain of awards season marketing – people were going nuts for La La Land before it was even in the cinema. Even the most discerning of critics can admit that building such a huge amount of popularity for a brand new film, nay a musical, is impressive. It’s perhaps fair to say that thanks for this is due, in no small part, to the lead actors and its theatrical release was supported by an early “pressing” of the soundtrack, allowing viewers to sing along when they were watching the screening. (If you did sing along out loud, I applaud your bravery and candor).

When the film was released it was to raucous applause and cheer but now, however, it is receiving criticism for the race and skin colour of its protagonists and there are questions raised about the gender equality in the flick too. What I say to this, is that there is virtually nothing offensive about this film, it was marketed as a lovely musical that makes next to no commentary on politics, gender and race. It’s marketed primarily as a perfectly pleasant love story and, on a deeper level, it’s a rehashing of the ideal of chasing the ‘American Dream’ in our modern and somewhat fickle world.

La La Land has been hot on the lips of Oscar buzz chat for months but I question whether it’s going to win any Academy awards due to recent criticism. For my part, I hope it does.

The future of the Oscars I would say is in for a change, but I don’t think this is left in the hands of the Academy. Instead, the power is in the marketing and PR minds behind production houses – and so on – who make movies in the first instance. Oscar buzz circulates around what films are out there, and I believe it’s the movies that are made that will instigate the change in Academy nominations and winners.

Looking forward to seeing how things pan out on Monday 26th February… #LaLaLand forever.

[Image credit: iStock/mezzalunayca]