The announcement of the 2019 Academy Award nominees was greeted, as they are every year, with the usual mix of admiration, incredulity, skepticism and excitement. There were discussions of who or what was snubbed (no female Best Director? No love for the excellent Fred Rogers documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor?) and who or what was questionably included (lots of nominations for Green Book and Vice, neither of which were loved by critics).
Among the more notable elements of this year’s class are first-ever Best Picture nominations for Netflix (Roma) and Marvel Studios (Black Panther). This is also the first time Spike Lee, who has helmed some of the most influential motion pictures of the last 25 years, has been selected as a potential Best Director winner for BlackKklansman.
Key to securing these nominations are the ubiquitous “For Your Consideration” ads run by Hollywood studios in trade and other industry publications in the months and weeks leading up awards season. Those ads, which are often part of a secondary marketing campaign for the movie, are aimed at Academy members largely in an effort to make sure *that* movie’s screener is the one they watch, which increases the likelihood the member will vote for it.
There are mass audience goals for awards nominations ads as well. Movies are frequently given additional theatrical runs after nominations or wins, even if they’re already on home video, to capitalize on the additional attention they’re receiving and pad their box office totals. Given that this year’s Best Picture nominees have a combined box office take of $1.26 billion ($700 million of which is from Black Panther alone) it’s clear these are a batch of movies people have shown an interest in.
A few of the For Your Consideration campaigns for movies that did wind up with nominations were particularly notable for how they focused on talent, extended the movie’s marketing branding and more.
A Star Is Born
Warner Bros. went all out to secure as many nominations as possible for its buzz-heavy critical and financial success, running FYC ads touting the movie’s achievements “in all categories.” That campaign included videos on its YouTube channel focusing on star/director Bradley Cooper and his work. That makes sense since Cooper was a big part of the pre-release publicity and marketing for how he crafted the story and got a performance from costar Lady Gaga that has wowed just about everyone who‘s seen it.
To highlight Gaga, a billboard was placed along Sunset Strip in Los Angeles featuring Ally, the up-and-coming singer/songwriter she plays in the film. Those billboards are identical to the ones seen in the film and don’t carry any of the movie’s branding, nor are they labeled as part of a For Your Consideration campaign. The point here seems simply to create buzz and get people talking, which it certainly did.
Netflix has been pushing its way upstream for years as it tries to get a foothold in the awards game. It’s made small gains recently with movies like Mudbound and some of its exclusive documentaries, but its insistence on foregoing all but a token qualifying theatrical run has put it in conflict with The Academy and its members as well as various film festival organizers.
That’s changed with this year’s Roma, which Oscar voters apparently couldn’t overlook. The movie, a passion project from writer/director Alfonso Cuarón about the Mexico City of his youth, was one of several prestige releases Netflix offered subscribers – and select moviegoers – in the last couple months of 2018. The company mounted an awards campaign reportedly costing $20 million that blanketed the internet in ads using stills and key art from the movie and included pre-roll spots on YouTube and even a TV spot aimed at general audiences. Cuarón also got a Best Director nod and acting nominations were given to Marina de Tavira and Yalitza Aparicio, relative unknowns who were pegged as breakouts for their performances.
If it seems like the marketing for the Freddie Mercury biopic hasn’t really stopped since it came out in early November, you’re not wrong. 20th Century Fox has kept up a steady drumbeat of new commercials and promotions for the movie to help the movie stay relevant in the cultural conversation. Those efforts have included #StompForQueen fan video compilations, side-by-side comparisons of scenes from the movie and actual Queen concert footage and more.
Most recently the studio announced it was putting the film back in theaters with a special “Sing Along” version that capitalized on the fan-friendly nature of Queen’s anthemic brand of rock. That broad audience campaign was in part meant to show how popular the movie was and quell concerns stemming from how Fox had to switch directors halfway through production and overcome backlash that the story downplayed Mercury’s sexuality as well as his AIDS diagnosis, all of which hung over the movie prior to and following its initial release.