What the Oscars Really Tell Us
There are plenty of things to love about the Oscars. Whether you're a fan rooting for your favorite stars, a fashion-minded viewer paying attention to who's wearing what, a creative type focused on the achievements in artistry and technology behind the scenes, or simply an ordinary moviegoer seeking out the best in breed for the year, the Oscars continue to be a celebrated global event.
But throughout the evening—through Billy Crystal's one-liners, Cirque du Soleil's magical performance or even the overpowering self-congratulatory speeches (I couldn't resist)—the show and its vast history deliver something far more important than the actual telecast.
What the Academy Awards really are: a truth filter for moviegoers. By filtering the glut of movies being marketed to us daily with billions of dollars in advertising, the Oscars give us a look at the best of the best.
Now, I work in the entertainment industry, marketing a range of experiential brands (including some awards shows). I can tell you firsthand, after sitting in on several focus groups with entertainment buyers: There is a bond of trust that makes award shows successful. People trust them.
Who Can You Trust?
And I can add another fact I've learned from those same focus groups: Consumers don't trust the onslaught of unsupported, misleading claims that have become commonplace in movie advertising today.
Take one movie now playing. (I won't name it, for reasons that may become obvious.) Advertising blurbs label it "Best of the Year" ... "Extraordinary." A quick search on the popular movie review site Rotten Tomatoes, however, tells a very different story: Less than half of critics gave it a favorable review.
It's a common marketing maneuver: quotes from critics as perceived third-party endorsements. But what may have worked a decade ago no longer has the same impact on consumers. And there's good reason for this; I'm sure we can all name a few movies we've been burned by over the last few years.
This is at the heart of why the Oscars have become so important to so many people.
Again, a quick look at the website Rotten Tomatoes gives a great snapshot at how well the Oscars did this year in identifying the best of the best. The Artist, this year's Best Picture winner, got favorable reviews from 97 percent of critics, and 91 percent of the audience votes. If you look at the entire pool of Best Picture nominees, you will see favorable reviews from 83 percent of critics and 79 percent of audience votes.
For the most part, the Oscars voting committee did their job.
What Matters Most
Yes, I know: Politics and money do still influence what makes it into an awards show and what doesn't. There are plenty of great films that get passed over each year. But no award show is perfect—and despite what some in the industry may believe, you can't buy an Oscar. That truth is critical to audience credibility.
The declining attendance line for traditional moviegoing tells me it's time for the industry to ditch its desperate claims of excellence and shift to more engaging marketing and advertising campaigns that match the true spirit of the films we are being asked to see. Be funny; don't just say you're funny. Be heartwarming, or be provocative; don't just say you are.
If we want to save a traditional moviegoing experience that feels less relevant with each passing day, it's time to kill the meaningless, empty promises in movie advertising out of respect for the rapidly informed consumer.
If we don't, we might one day face consumer warnings on movie marketing, just like on pharmaceuticals or tobacco products: "Watching this movie may give you migraine headaches, extreme drowsiness and an upset stomach." Now that would be entertaining.
So I'll thank the Oscars for bringing out the best of what an amazing film industry has to offer. I have plenty of movie-watching now to look forward to.