We constantly hear about the decline in live TV viewership, and as award season approaches, it calls into question whether the high price tags of these TV events are still worth it to brands. While it’s true that live viewership is on the decline for most tentpole award shows, the amount of people you’re able to reach via an event like the Oscars or the Grammys is still unparalleled. And reach is only one part of what makes these award shows so tempting to advertisers.
These shows still represent a cultural moment, which is why even as viewership has declined, social conversation around them only continues to grow. In 2016, viewership was down 8 percent from the year prior, yet when Leonardo Dicaprio accepted his Oscar, there were a record-breaking 440,000 tweets in a single minute in response. Last year’s ratings hit a nine year low, and still the Best Picture mishap generated over 635,000 social engagements in the minutes following the fiasco. Most importantly for brands, the social engagement doesn’t stop at commentary on the ceremony itself—it extends to the brands advertising within the telecast as well.
Case in point: Walmart kicked off their multi-year, exclusive retail sponsorship of the 2017 Oscars with a custom four-spot approach that challenged three big time Hollywood directors to create 60-second films based on the same six-item Walmart receipt. The concept created an authentic connection between a brand that at first glance has little to do with Hollywood’s biggest night by letting the context of the Oscars drive the idea. The result was a series of spots that truly prioritized entertaining people, while having a distinct connection the Walmart brand.
Droga5 used the same show to launch the New York Times’ "The Truth Is Hard" campaign. Capitalizing on the unique political climate surrounding 2017’s broadcast, and knowing Sting was to perform his Oscar nominated song from "Jim: The James Foley Story" (a documentary about a journalist killed by ISIS), we sought out a media placement directly following his performance. The combination of the cultural relevance and contextual alignment drove hundreds of thousands of social media mentions and vast press pickup—leading to earned impressions that created value for the brand far beyond that of the media investment and pushing subscriptions to 3.5 million at year-end last year.
These are just a couple of examples of what can make award show advertising so special. It’s shortsighted to value these events only on their viewership. Their ability to spur conversation uniquely positions them as an opportunity to drive impact for a brand far beyond the telecast reach, and they still represent the rare TV opportunity that can catapult brands into culture.
These shows are still a huge opportunity for brands, but ultimately, they’re only a platform. It’s up to brands to make the price tag "worth it" with relevant, customized ideas that transcend the 30-second spot and give people something to talk about.
Samantha Deevy is Group Communications Strategy Director at Droga5.