Now in its 94th year, the Academy Awards have had to adapt to the digital age. Starting in 1929 with only 15 awards and winners announced in newspapers and over the radio, it was another 20 years before the ceremony was finally broadcast on television. The Oscars have, in past decade, embraced advancements in streaming, social media, and even digitisation accelerated by the global pandemic. All of these have helped reinvent the Oscars, which are continuing to evolve to stay relevant in modern times. Here’s how.
Goodbye traditional TV, hello streaming platforms
In the pre-digital age, production companies used linear television and traditional advertising to promote their new movies. Audiences didn’t have access to trailers or streaming platforms, and instead had to wait for the event to get a glimpse. The Oscars were a way to peek into the glamorous world of Hollywood, and people looked forward to the event to see the celebrities, their outfits, and, of course, the latest films.
With the emergence of streaming, connected TV, and other platforms, advertising has evolved—and audience habits have as well. As our media experts predicted, programmatic digital marketing is now the most efficient strategy, allowing advertisers to target the audiences most likely to benefit from their products and services by reaching them at the right time and place. In streaming platforms in your programmatic media strategy can be an excellent way to align your advertising efforts with your audience’s expectations.
Of course, the rise of streaming has also turned heads at the Academy Awards. Netflix, for example, has produced Oscar-winning movies including Roma in 2018, Wedding Story in 2019, and Mank in 2020. An impressive 10 Netflix productions are in the running at this year’s ceremony, all nominated in different categories such as Best Picture for Don’t Look Up and Best International Feature for The Hand of God.
The instant impact of social media
Previously, movie marketers focus almost exclusively on press coverage in order to earn a coveted Oscar nomination. But, according to independent film marketing consultant David Weitzner, social media has democratized the process: “Not only can social media give you a wider audience right away, but it can get you access to the right audience.”
With the emergence of social media, film producers know what their audiences want and how to interact with them instantly. Creating a buzz online allows production companies to gain an advantage in terms of promotion as well as potential award nominations. Similarly, fashion brands who dress the stars once had a very small window in which to gain notoriety—the television broadcast of the awards ceremony—but red carpet photos now live on in perpetuity online, especially on social media.
Real-time marketing (RTM) is also emerging as a lucrative tactic to seize a moment and turn it into an opportunity to engage audiences and promote a product or service. After all, what better time to create a buzz around your brand than during a globally watched event such as the Oscars? See also: Oreo’s lightning-fast response to a power outage during the 2013 Super Bowl, and Ellen’s record-breaking, celebrity-filled selfie that subliminally promoted the new Samsung phone.
If only Bradley's arm was longer. Best photo ever. #oscars pic.twitter.com/C9U5NOtGap
— Ellen DeGeneres (@TheEllenShow) March 3, 2014
Dove also made a smart move during the 2015 ceremony. The company launched the hashtag #SpeakBeautiful during the event in order to sensitise the audience, specifically women, on the importance of positivity and the way they see themselves and talk about their bodies. The campaign was a huge success and allowed Dove to gain public engagement like never before.
It is perhaps not surprising, then, that the Academy, understanding the role that social media plays during its event, has even introduced a public vote this year through Twitter to more fully engage its audience…
The Oscars conversation takes place well before the ceremony
This new fan-favourite vote is one of several ways the Oscars are directly engaging fans in the conversation before the actual ceremony. The entirely new category, #OscarsFanFavorite, is open for the general public to vote for the most popular film of the year. Voting will happen using a hashtag on Twitter and a dedicated website, and the winner will be announced during the live broadcast.
But the conversation starting early is nothing new. In fact, the majority of Oscars search volume happens in February and March, and completely drops after the ceremony. If a brand wants to be involved in the online hype, it needs to focus efforts on this prime time.
Diversity had to become a priority
One of the final and arguably most important adaptions the Academy has had to make is around its commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. After facing backlash with the rise of the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite (again, proving the online conversation can be just as important as the ceremony itself), the Academy has taken actions to implement diversity initiatives by 2024. The first set of stipulations, grouped as Standard A, encourages diversity on camera by requiring underrepresented racial and ethnic groups cast in a significant role.
So, which film will be this year’s fan favourite? Search volume is up for the 10 Best Picture nominees, peaking in December. Did Dune achieve the highest search volume because of its incredible production or its slick marketing and promotion? Time will tell!