At the Oscars, Bringing Brands to Life
When viewers watch ABC on Sunday for coverage of the 86th annual Academy Awards, they will see commercials for more than a dozen organizations or companies like AARP, Coldwell Banker, General Motors, Mars, J. C. Penney and Unilever. Those spots will, however, be only part of the marketing efforts that seek to walk the red carpet with Oscar.
A lengthy list of advertisers is putting on events in Los Angeles as part of a trend, increasingly popular on Madison Avenue, known as experiential marketing. The concept is to offer consumers tangible ways to connect with brands, in a belief that such engagement is more likely to stimulate positive word of mouth and discussion in social media. That expectation was recently encapsulated by a headline on an article in the Direct Line blog from Direct Marketing News: “What’s better than an ad? An experience.” Those participating in experiential marketing surrounding the Academy Awards this year include Banana Republic, Chobani, Evite.com, Fiat Chrysler, Grey Goose, L’Oréal, Stella Artois and two magazines, People and Vanity Fair.
Events can help “bring brands to life,” said Carol Hamilton, president of the L’Oréal Luxe division of L’Oréal USA, a lead sponsor with the Chrysler brand of an elaborate experiential event called the Vanity Fair Social Club; participating L’Oréal brands include Giorgio Armani Beauty, Clarisonic and Lancôme.
Vanity Fair has invited more than 120 bloggers and online reporters covering the Oscars to use branded WeWork work spaces on Hollywood Boulevard outfitted with amenities like a media wall, a faux food truck and a vending machine powered by Twitter — i.e., giving away merchandise in exchange for posts that use sponsor hashtags and handles. The reporters and bloggers planning to work from and visit the newsroom-cum-lounge are “influential,” Ms. Hamilton said, reaching an estimated 20 million consumers who can now “be involved in the week leading up to the big event.”
Edward J. Menicheschi, vice president and publisher at Vanity Fair, part of Condé Nast, said: “Oscar night is Vanity Fair’s Super Bowl. The idea of setting up a central HQ for bloggers that’s a physical manifestation of our brand will enable them to create good social content. We see the chance to repeat it at other high-visibility cultural events.”
The Vanity Fair Social Club is part of the magazine’s annual Campaign Hollywood, which also involves its Oscar night party and special issues. The bloggers and reporters will be encouraged to include the hashtag #VFSocialClub with their posts and articles.
People is bringing 300 readers and their 300 guests — selected through a sweepstakes from among the magazine’s so-called V.I.P. subscribers, who pay $200 a year for deluxe subscriptions — to take part in a daylong Oscar Fan Experience that includes seats in the bleachers on the Academy Awards red carpet and a viewing party at the El Capitan Theater on Hollywood Boulevard. (A location on that street seems to be de rigueur this year for Oscar experiential marketing.)
This will be the second year that People is sponsoring an Oscar event, said Karen Kovacs, publisher at People, both times as part of a partnership with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. “It’s a huge collaboration between them and our events and marketing team,” she added.
“We think in term of value to the subscriber,” Ms. Kovacs said. “This adds enormous value to their relationship with the People brand.”
Reinforcing the real-world event will be the appearance of Jess Cagle — new editorial director of two Time Inc. magazines, People and Entertainment Weekly — as a co-host of the pre-Academy Awards broadcast on ABC, known as “The Oscars Red Carpet Live.” Mr. Cagle will also oversee an issue of People devoted to the Academy Awards, out on March 7.
The Evite experiential marketing effort centered on the Academy Awards is part of a partnership the company formed last month with ConnecTV, a social video network for television viewers. The intent is to encourage consumers to host in-home and virtual viewing parties for what are known as big television events that, in addition to the Oscars, include the Super Bowl, the Grammys and the Olympics.
“It’s the physical meets the digital,” said Jennifer Dominiquini, chief marketing officer at Evite, “with everyone all joining together in one social moment.”
“We’re asking people to share recipes and party tips, video clips, and encouraging them to dress in costumes as their favorite movie stars or movie genres,” Ms. Dominiquini said, with those using the hashtag #AwardsParty2014 when they post comments on Twitter eligible for prizes from Evite and ConnecTV.
Evite and ConnecTV will also host a live event on Sunday, she added, with two other sponsors, FilmBreak and IgnitedSpaces. The event is to be held, Ms. Dominiquini said, near the Dolby Theater on Hollywood Boulevard — yes, that street again — where the Academy Awards ceremony will be held.
The Banana Republic experiential marketing initiative, like Evite’s, is unofficial, as opposed to, say, the People and Vanity Fair efforts, which have the Academy’s imprimatur. On the Banana Republic channel on YouTube, Justine, a YouTube celebrity, will appear live on the red carpet in a custom version of a dress from the Banana Republic spring collection.
“It’s a very different way” for the brand “to engage,” said Catherine Sadler, global chief marketing officer at Banana Republic, part of Gap Inc. “It’s the first time we’re doing a digital media integration inserting ourselves into pop culture to increase our brand voice and relevance.”
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