How five brands will go for gold at Oscars

Cadillac, "The Arena" by by Publicis New York and Publicis UK.
Cadillac, "The Arena" by by Publicis New York and Publicis UK.

They will balance digital and social media initiatives throughout the event to keep viewers engaged

Just weeks after the Super Bowl, brands are preparing for another mass-market TV event – Sunday’s Academy Awards – by preparing multiple digital and social media platforms to hold consumers’ attention.

One brand juggling a range of online options for viewers is JC Penney, the official retail sponsor of the show for the 14th consecutive year. The store is using the awards ceremony as a launch pad for its spring marketing campaign, says Kate Coultas, senior manager of media relations and corporate affairs at JC Penney.

The retailer plans to host an interactive and charitable online game during the show, taking advantage of more viewers "using a second screen, such as a smartphone, tablet, or laptop" during live events than ever before, she explains.

Consumers can register for Oscars Play to Give at, where they can earn points to generate a donation from JC Penney to one of three charities. Consumers can play by themselves or with a team on Facebook and Twitter, and they can keep an eye on the leader board throughout the night to see how much money is raised. To boost interest, people who register before this Sunday will receive a coupon for $25 or more.

The brand will also unveil a Tumblr page during the show called Lookbook, which will showcase fashion trends. It will invite customers to submit photos of their own styles with the hashtags #JCPLookbook and #JCPStyle for a chance to be featured on the Tumblr.

Marcus Peterzell, EVP of entertainment for Ketchum Sports & Entertainment, says Oscar brand sponsors have an easier time breaking through the social media clutter than in recent years because they can use trademarked hashtags, such as #Oscars or #AcademyAwards.

Yet competition is fierce, so being clever is key. For example, Peterzell contends that March Madness-like brackets or contests to predict the winners are trite, so if a brand wants to run a game, it should be unique, but relevant.

He adds that large, well-known companies face a challenge with Oscars marcomms because first-time sponsors or new brands "open consumers’ eyes" with fresh content. Household-name brands, Peterzell suggests, may want to steer away from launching a product or ad during the show unless it’s unique or a reimagining. 

In that vein, Cadillac is trying to refresh its brand with a campaign to "clearly restate and define Cadillac’s core values," says David Caldwell, communications manager for the General Motors brand.

Earlier this week, Cadillac released one of its three new commercials online; the other two will debut during the program. The first ad, entitled The Arena: Dare Greatly, shows no branded vehicles because the focus is on the ad’s tonality, says Caldwell. The commercial’s voiceover is taken from President Theodore Roosevelt's Citizenship in a Republic speech of 1910, and the other two ads will follow the same theme.

Last week, Cadillac "basically hit the reset button" on all of its social channels by turning them all white to build intrigue among consumers about what’s to come on Sunday, Caldwell adds. He notes that the brand plans to redesign its social platforms, as well as its website.

Read: Cadillac's brand reboot, made in Manhattan

On Wednesday, it posted a message for fans on its Facebook page from Cadillac president Johan de Nysschen about the company "embarking upon a bold new journey."

During the awards, Caldwell says viewers should expect social media "posts that feature photos, quotes, and links related to the content that appears within the TV spots." The brand may have some live, in-the-moment conversations on social, as well, but the emphasis will be on custom content related to the ads.

Caldwell adds that Cadillac wants its reinvigoration effort to be in stark contrast to what other brands do during mass-market televised events.

"This is not cartoon animals or cute dogs or children," he explains. 

One brand that will include dogs in its Oscars campaign – Budweiser’s Lost Dog ad was the big marketing winner on the night of Super Bowl XLIX – is Coldwell Banker Real Estate. The company kicked off the Homes for Dogs Project with nonprofit last week with the goal of finding homes for 20,000 pups across the country by the end of 2015. It also revealed a commercial called Home’s Best Friend on Feb. 11, which will air on ABC during the Oscars. The brand has advertised during the event for the last two years.

On Sunday, Coldwell Banker and, will host a Twitter party using the hashtag #HomeRocks to encourage consumers and the company’s network of offices and agents to rally around the campaign. Two Coldwell Banker employees will live-tweet and blog through the evening from the ceremony.

CMO Sean Blankenship tells PRWeek that the "luxury feel" of the audience of the Academy Awards aligns with the brand’s tone, noting that Coldwell Banker has trended on Twitter during the Oscars for the last two years. 

Of course, one marketing move that nearly overshadowed the event itself last year was host Ellen DeGeneres’ record-breaking Oscars selfie with Samsung smartphone, an awards sponsor. While brands may not try to weave a selfie into marketing gold this year, Peterzell believes the Academy might "start to relax a little and let brands be a little more creative" in how they integrate into the show based on the success of the Samsung selfie.

He also predicts that brands will work more often with celebrity partners and other talent starting this year because that play is typically less expensive than sponsorships or ads, and celebrities can build excitement before an event.

DeGeneres also built buzz by ordering pizza for the audience during last year’s show, which is why Pizza Hut will honor that moment on Sunday with a social media promotion. The chain is inviting consumers to share photos of themselves dressed up on Twitter or Instagram while enjoying a slice from the brand while using the #AllDressedUpWithPizzaToGo, for a chance free pizza for a year.

Pizza Hut PR director Doug Terfehr says the company will "absolutely" interact with fans on social media throughout the ceremony.

"We do this every day, but specifically ramp it up around major pizza eating occasions," he adds. "This qualifies."

In fact, the night of the Oscars is one of the busiest of the year for cheese pizza sales, Terfehr notes, and one of the highest tipping nights for the brand’s delivery drivers.

Logically then, Coca-Cola also views the Academy Awards as a popular night for the company, with the brand planning to again advertise during the show this year after sitting out the 2014 edition.
The brand has already started posting Oscar-related content on its online magazine Coca-Cola Journey, including an article about how to throw a "blockbuster party night" during the show.

"This broadcast is the pinnacle of award show season and one where we know our fans are tuning in," says Andrew McMillin, VP of Coca-Cola brands for Coca-Cola North America, via email. "Diet Coke will join the conversation about Hollywood’s biggest night, encouraging fans to get a taste of Hollywood through unique social content and airing spots during the broadcast."

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