Branding and Engagement Lessons From the Oscars

March 3rd, 2014

Like many longevity brands, the Academy Awards faces the ongoing challenge of creating a classic but youthful image. Yet last night’s Oscars showed that connecting with a younger demographic doesn’t mean pulling weird stunts and packing the stage full of young people – in fact, by curating a balance of classic and up-and-coming, the event was a glittery case study in branding and engagement. Below, three of the evening’s many takeaways.

Ellen Breaks Twitter

Host Ellen DeGeneres managed to crash Twitter with her celebrity-packed selfie that garnered a record 2.7 million retweets and took down Twitter. DeGeneres prefaced the whole selfie incident by stating that she wanted to set a record for retweets and of course, the fans obliged. This was hands down the most successful social media stunt the Oscars has ever pulled – DeGeneres (and the masterminds behind the ploy) not only asked for retweets, they made a whole schtick out of taking selfies and posting them to Twitter. I wonder how no one thought of it before – though the stars aligned with Samsung as a sponsor and a TV host with a huge fan base.

Interestingly, Ellen’s “most epic selfie of all time” didn’t feature a gaggle of young starlets (23-year-old Jennifer Lawrence is the youngest), but a sampling of some of the most established stars in Hollywood. The average age of those in the photo (excluding Lupita Nyong’o’s brother, Peter, whose age I couldn’t find) is 43, showing that being “epic” is no longer quite as contingent as being in one’s 20’s.

What they did right: Stated their goal of getting the most retweets ever, made taking selfies an interactive process, added humor, got a host with a large fan base and loyal online following to give it a push (I can’t imagine working with past hosts like Seth McFarlane or James Franco and Anne Hathaway).

What didn’t work out so well: Twitter wasn’t ready for the traffic, Ellen tweeted a backstage photo from her iPhone.

Engagement takeaway: State your goal and make the process fun. Doesn’t hurt if you can get nearly a dozen big celebrities, and it’s not only young people who resonate with young people.

Bringing Back Classic Stars

The evening was supposed to be a return to tradition and the classics, as evidenced by appearances from Kim Novak, Sidney Poitier, Liza Minnelli, Goldie Hawn, Bette Midler, and John Travolta. I have to admit, I found Midler’s performance of “Wind Beneath My Wings” at the In Memoriam section a bit of a head scratcher. For a brand like the Oscars that so plainly pursues a younger demographic, it seemed weird to me to have Midler, who was at the height of her fame decades ago, sing in what is possibly the most emotionally moving spot of the evening. However, it seems it may have been a good move since one of their goals was to consolidate their base (women) and there were a lot of positive reactions on Twitter, even though it seemed counter-intuitive to the goal of projecting a younger image.

What they did right: Going out on a limb and choosing a star who isn’t young but is classic, nailing a balance between old and young Hollywood, Pink’s excellent cover of “Over the Rainbow” gave a new take on a classic song, symbolically passing it down to the next generations but maintaining the power of the original.  The right way to do a tribute.

What didn’t work out so well: Not having Minnelli involved the tribute to The Wizard of Oz, in which her mother, Judy Garland, starred. It’s entirely possible that Minnelli didn’t want to sing, but regardless of the circumstances, a lot of people on Twitter thought it was odd that Pink would sing the tribute while Minnelli was feet away. If Minnelli didn’t want to sing, she should have at least introduced the number so that it wouldn’t look like she was being slighted. And if she was being slighted, they made it super apparent.

Branding takeaway: It’s not always the wrong move to choose a spokesperson who is classic, as Midler is, so consider whether that person will resonate with the audience you’re most doggedly pursuing. Strive for a balance between reviving classics with new faces and bringing back the originator. Also, remember to consider appearances – examine something from all angles to make sure it doesn’t look like you’re slighting someone.


ABC and the Academy announced their Twitter initiative, #MyOscarPhoto, in which users who followed @TheAcademy  (and who signed a practically hidden online release) could Tweet a photo of themselves using the hashtag, and then during the red carpet pre-show, a celebrity would take a photo with a TV screen showing the photo the Twitter user had submitted, and some photos would be shown on TV. It was, at best, awkward in on-air execution; when the model and red carpet host Tyson Beckford modeled the first example, it looked forced. ABC only aired one more instance of #MyOscarPhoto, but clearly they got some traction, as their Twitter feed has over 400 tweets of stars posing stiffly with a television screen.

What they did right: Sourced user-submitted content and made non-celebrity fans feel like part of the event.

What didn’t work out so well: Execution was awkward, they only showed two photos (including the introductory example) so it seemed to dwindle quickly. Maybe they needed a hastagectomy. Also, if people need to sign a release, you should probably mention that in your explanatory tweet.

Engagement takeaway: Don’t let engagement initiatives fizzle; if you say you’re going to air photos, air a bunch of them, and publicize the release well ahead of time.

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