When Good Brands Go Bad (Looking At You, Oscars)

April 1, 2022 | blog | By Julie Ondrusek

The Oscars used to be “Must See TV” right behind the big football game that shall not be named without express written consent from the NFL. In 2010, more than 41 million people tuned in to see “The Hurt Locker” win Best Picture and Kathryn Bigelow make history as the first woman to win an Academy Award for Best Director. By comparison, Sunday night’s Academy Awards drew just under 17 million viewers, the second-lowest ratings ever for an Oscars broadcast.

There are plenty of opinions about how to “fix” the Oscars. While we’re at it, we might want to address the Grammys, Emmys, and Tony Awards as well. Their ratings have continued to plummet just like the Oscars. We already lost the Golden Globes. The Hollywood Foreign Press couldn’t even bother to put on a show this year. It all begs the question – how has this once golden brand, gone so bad?

First, know thyself.

Brand attrition isn’t anything new. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately 20 percent of new businesses fail in the first year with more than 70 percent failing by year 10. But the Oscars isn’t a startup. It’s closing in on 100 years in business having awarded the first Best Picture trophy to “Wings” in 1929. What it’s become is another cautionary tale for brands too myopic to thrive.

At its height in 1998, the Oscars drew more than 55 million viewers. Is there greater competition for viewer attention now? Yes. Have America’s programming tastes changed over time? Clearly. Are those of us in the peanut gallery tired of getting preached at about every political hot potato from celebrities so out of touch they fly private jets to the Oscars ceremony in one moment and decry global warming the next? You bet. But the Academy doesn’t seem to get that.

The Oscars and their waning appeal are a prime example of what happens when brands stop paying attention to what they are and who they stand for.

You’re either gaining ground, or losing it.

There is no such thing as brand stasis. Either you’re gaining popularity or you’re losing it. And while most brands tend to lose their relevance over time, the Oscars decade-long hemorrhage of viewers has been accelerated because they have forgotten what it is they are about. For that matter, it seems so have many of the winners.

The Academy Awards is no longer a celebration of our love for the movies. It’s the scant heartfelt moment (thank you Lady Gaga), inspiring speech (thank you Ariana DeBose and Troy Kotsur), or surprise Best Picture (Yay CODA!) choked out by political diatribes, poorly written banter, and a Monday morning debate over who got left out of the “In Memoriam” section and which demographic group was most grossly underrepresented.

Sunday wasn’t crazy. It was criminal.

Crazy things have always happened at the Oscars. Sacheen Littlefeather in 1973. The streaker in 1974. Jack Palance’s one-armed pushups. Faye Dunaway reading the wrong Best Picture winner. But none have been as ugly, or out of step, as Will Smith’s assault of Chris Rock Sunday night. That wasn’t crazy. It was criminal. And what kind of message did it send that an hour later, Hollywood gave Smith a standing ovation? Sure, it made for a quick bump in viewership the hour after it happened. But it won’t do anything to help next year or the year after.

The Academy even missed the layups. The Oscars thought having legendary New York DJ M.O.S. handle this year’s presenter walk on music might hip up the ceremony and speak to a younger audience. So how to explain playing Toto’s “Africa” when Daniel Kaluuya and H.E.R. walked on to present Best Supporting Actress? You think maybe the song H.E.R. won the Oscar for last year might have been a better call?

It’s sad when brands can’t get out of their own way. The Oscars aren’t yet Blockbuster. But they’re well on their way. Success isn’t about chasing an audience. And it’s not about manufacturing ways to get attention. Challenger brand success is about understanding who you are, where you stand, who you’re for and not for, and how prepared you are to fight for relevance. As a movie lover, I hope the Academy can pull it together. As someone who fights on behalf of challenger brands every day, I’m not sure they know how.

JULIE ONDRUSEK is COO and director of client service at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency and a top Dallas advertising agency for digital, social, mobile and user experience. For more about challenger branding, advertising, and marketing, leadership, culture, and other inspirations that will drive your success, visit our blog BARK! The Voice of the Underdog and catch up on all of our posts.

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Academy Awardsad agencyadvertisingadvertising agencyAriana DeBoseBest DirectorBest PictureBlockbusterchallenger brandchallenger brand marketingchallenger brandingchallenger brandsChris RockCodacompany cultureDaniel KaluuyaDJ M.O.S.EmmysFaye DunawayGolden GlobesGrammysH.E.R.In MemoriamJack PalanceKathryn BigelowLady GagaMust See TVOscarsSacheen LittlefeatherThe Hurt LockerThe Voice of The UnderdogTony Awardstop Dallas ad agencyTotoTroy Kotsurvoice of the underdogWill SmithWings

Julie Ondrusek

at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency


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