Marketing Fuels the Race to the Oscars
Director Guillermo del Torro was awarded the Oscar for Best Picture, and one of the most coveted awards of the night, for his film The Shape of Water. The feat is noteworthy, considering that not only was the film’s budget just $20 million (del Torro gave up his salary to make the film), but sci-fi movies rarely make a ripple at the Academy Awards – no sci-fi film had ever won Best Picture until now. What changed? While artistic merit and quality filmmaking are determining factors in who takes home the famous statuette, the strategy for winning goes much deeper than the film itself.
Many people are under the impression that all it takes to win an Academy Award, also known as an Oscar, is a critically acclaimed film with big-ticket movie stars. What most don’t know is the rigorous marketing and campaigning strategy that make winning this prestigious award possible. Not only are countless hours spent on Oscar campaigns, but half of the budget (which totals up to the millions) will go to advertising. Alone, PR consultants are paid $10,000-$15,000, plus bonuses of $20,000 per nomination and/or win, according to Stephen Follows Film Data and Education. The purpose of all the time and money spent is to sway the group of voters within the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences that determine the winners.
Cynthia Swartz, whose firm Strategy/PR Consulting ran campaigns for The Revenant, Steve Jobs, 45 Years, and Room, says, “It’s a very hectic time. It’s going to the various events. You’ve got the Screen Actors Guild awards, then you go to the UK for the BAFTAs. Then you come back. There’s a lot of traveling. And a lot of the time, films have to do international promotion so they’re trying to shoehorn that in … Everyone wants to utilize the nominations as a marketing tool to drive business. It’s a very compressed several weeks.”
The campaign trail to the Oscars is divided into phases. Phase one consists of the award ceremonies and travel and promotion. Additionally, a film that intends on winning Best Picture will spend up to $10 million on ad campaigns, screeners, and events. For example, a one-page ad in The Hollywood Reporter during Oscar season costs $72,000.
Phase two of campaigning is laid out by the Academy, which governs how nominees are allowed to promote their films and performances. On its website, the Academy provides a 10-page document of rules and regulations that must be met by contenders who risk exclusion from the ceremony if they fail to comply.
From this point on, Guild Award wins (the Producers Guild Awards, the Directors Guild Awards, and the Screen Actors Guild Awards) are crucial, as they are usually markers as to who will win big at the Academy Awards. These sets of awards leading up to the Oscars often shift the momentum of the race, especially if a film that had lower projections of success sweeps the ceremonies.
To round it all up, not only must films contend with massive marketing budgets, Oscar season only lasts from the beginning of November to the end of the following February, leaving less than four months to draft and execute a successful marketing campaign. The race to the Oscars is truly a marathon, but a successful finish undoubtedly leaves filmmakers and marketers alike with the greatest sense of accomplishment.