Oscar Campaigning: the Politics of the Academy Awards

Although the Academy Awards aren’t often studied in political science courses when talking about guerrilla campaigning tactics, there’s a reason why the Oscars are often looked at as “political” awards. The politics of the Oscars isn’t just present in the statements that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences sometimes tries to make in the choosing of its winners, but also in the campaigns that nominees and movie studios launch in their attempts to clinch a golden statuette.

academy award campaignWinning an Oscar in any category can help a film find a lucrative marketing re-birth or launch actors and actresses to super-stardom. It’s easy to understand why many millions of dollars are spent on efforts to promote nominees to members of the Academy, and it’s a great study for political consultants or campaign managers who are fascinated by the psychology of campaigning.

Once nominations for the Academy Awards are named, there simply isn’t time for much campaigning to get done before Oscars are awarded a few weeks later. Oscar nominees don’t have the luxury of putting together a detailed campaign plan months in advance of the “election” like candidates for public office have.

And they don’t have the ability to raise funds for a campaign from donors, either . . . although few Oscar nominees would need to do so anyway, with the hefty bank accounts of movie studios there to finance the best advertising that money can buy. Making that advertising effective, and getting it in front of the Academy members who will be voting in each category, is the difficult part.

The members of the Academy who vote for Oscar winners are a relatively small, select group of individuals, and just because a film or actor has millions of fans across the country doesn’t mean it will equate to a win on Oscar night. Movie studios have to do a bang-up job of promoting their nominees to members of the Academy quickly, brilliantly and effectively.

While social media and Internet campaigning are starting to be used effectively by movie studios to promote Oscar nominees to Academy members, it’s not yet a medium that offers as much oomph for an Oscar campaign as it does for, say, a presidential or senate campaign. Political candidates often have months or even years to build up social media fans and mail lists online, and movie studios only have a few short weeks to promote their films, actors and scores.

Instead, traditional marketing vessels like print, magazine, television and even billboard advertising play a much larger role in Oscar campaigns. Studios and actors have immediate, large budgets to make big ad buys in these traditional markets, and it’s not uncommon to see advertisements promoting Oscar nominees in magazines and publications that are read by many Academy members.

If you’re a political candidate, there isn’t much to learn about good traditional campaigning from the yearly race for the Oscars. Flesh-and-blood candidates don’t often have the limitless financial resources of a movie studio, and larger districts require a much more broad attempt to impress the electorate (your voters will be every resident of legal age, after all, and not just a select few members of an elite academy).

Still, from a strictly academic approach, watching how nominees for the Academy Awards pull off successful campaigns is worth paying a bit of attention to. In the politics of the Oscars, there are often wildly successful underdogs who win in spite of being less glitzy and having less money . . . and the same can be said for political races on every level across the country, too.

After the Oscars have been awarded and the dust settles, take a moment to read up on some of the tactics that the different nominees used to campaign for their shot at the Academy Awards. Pay close attention to the nominees who weren’t as well financed, and see if their tactics inspire any ideas for your own future political campaigns.

Oh, and if you have any hunches about who the winners are going to be on Oscar night this year, I hope you’ll let us know in the comment section below. We’re always fascinated by any type of campaigning, and there’s an old saying among veteran campaign managers, after all: “Politics is just acting for ugly people.”

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