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The Oscars Are All About The Advertising

Your favorite celebrities have been working the press junket. You’ve probably seen them on every talk show, and noticed display ads for films they were in that came out months ago – urging you to buy or rent them on streaming services. Your social media has been filled with paid ads encouraging likes and comments on how much you loved “Bohemian Rhapsody.” And I can pretty much guarantee you’ve heard the song “Shallow” at least 10 times this week. It all means one thing: The Academy Awards – the film industry’s most important night – is just a few days away.

Hollywood production studios know what it takes to secure a highly coveted Oscar, and it’s not nearly as simple as making a generation-defining flick.

No matter how great your film may be, it’s impossible to win – or even receive a nomination for – a golden statue without a solid marketing campaign in place.

Let’s take a closer look at two of 2018s more popular movies as an example. Mega-hit “A Star Is Born” is an awards season staple this year, receiving eight academy nominations. Meanwhile, weird but wonderful “Sorry to Bother You” hasn’t been in any serious awards conversations and didn’t garner a single Oscar nomination.

Does that mean “A Star Is Born” is a better movie than “Sorry to Bother You?” Not at all. Both were made by first-time directors (Bradley Cooper and Boots Riley, respectively) and distributed by powerhouse film studios (Warner Bros. and Annapurna Pictures). And both films were met with quite positive reviews from critics and filmgoers alike.

But why haven’t they both received the same type of awards attention? Warner Bros. chose “A Star Is Born” as its Oscars horse, utilizing public relations strategies and marketing tactics abound. They sent Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga and Sam Elliott across the country to run the late-night show circuit, and manufactured “For Your Consideration” screeners to send to press and academy/guild members.

Advertising executives are using all forms of advertising to get this film in the academy consideration set: PR, paid search and display ads, social media (both paid and organic), and more. They even took advantage of traditional media tactics, like buying television, radio and podcast ads, to get “A Star Is Born” in front of as wide an audience as possible. And everyone in Los Angeles has taken a picture in front of the giant “Ally” billboard they bought for the film and kept up as a marketing ploy.

A Star is Born Billboard

This fully formed marketing campaign has allowed the film to be nominated for most guild awards, as well as the Golden Globes, BAFTAs, and of course, the Oscars. If this type of a marketing campaign hadn’t been employed, the film wouldn’t be on the forefront of voters’ minds, and therefore, most likely wouldn’t have received the type of awards buzz that it has.

Executives working on behalf of “Sorry to Bother You” haven’t pushed the project nearly as hard. Aside from marketing the film when it first entered theaters last July, Annapurna Pictures favored Oscar-winning director Adam McKay’s Vice for awards season over “Sorry to Bother You.” That move earned the Christian Bale prosthetics-driven vehicle eight Academy Award nominations.

Perhaps it was director Riley’s decision not to campaign, but the lack of a marketing strategy left “Sorry to Bother You” as an end-of-summer indie hit as opposed to a serious Oscar contender. Voters don’t have any materials to keep the movie top of mind, and haven’t seen stars Lakeith Stanfield or Tessa Thompson working the press. Without an advertising bump, the movie can’t be in the consideration set for important industry figures.

This Sunday, fans will have plenty of hot takes around potential Oscar snubs or surprises, while acceptance speeches or wardrobe choices will likely garner headlines as well.

While you’re watching producers from the winner of best picture give an impassioned, gracious, and likely rushed speech as the show ends, try to remember the countless hours, dollars and marketing professionals who truly got them onto that stage.

At the same time, take a second to think about the movies you saw earlier in the year and liked, or even those you may have never even heard of. Shouldn’t the final award of the night sound more like this: “And the Oscar for Best Marketing Campaign goes to…”?

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