The politics of Academy ads By Kathy Tyre

Studio execs, many of whom declined to talk on the record for this story on the politics of the Academy ad game, maintain that their primary goal with trade ads is to remind the 5,000 Academy members of their films when it comes time for nominations. But behind closed doors, everyone knows that the classic Hollywood ego-stroke is the purpose of this pursuit.
Consider this year’s Best Film nod from Paramount for Boomerang, TriStar’s Best Film campaigning for Candyman and Warner’s Best Actress support for Whitney Houston in The Bodyguard.
“With the ads, not only are they trying to generate awareness of their films for award consideration, but sending a message to the industry-the filmmaker and the star–that their studio is a good place to work and that they back their stars 100%,” said an entertainment trade magazine source.
The intricacies of the awards game are complex. If a studio goes overboard in promoting every one of its films regardless of merit, it can lose the respect of its peers. In other words, you can only throw so many Seagal ads into your mix.
Even Disney fell into a trap last year when the studio was perceived to be spending like crazy on Beauty and the Beast. Disney ran so many ads for a variety of films that they confused those who read them. “All of Disney’s ads looked so much alike that people associated them all with Beauty,” said an ad, rep.
Some studios are steering clear of political choices entirely. “What’s gone altogether here are ads for hokey films that are not likely to get nominations,” boasted a source at Columbia, which is only promoting six of the 18 films it put out last year.
A studio can also get bad-mouthed if it overlooks a critically acclaimed film. Rumors sprung up this year that based on Spike Lee’s early run-ins with Warner Bros. and the film’s mediocre box-office performance, Malcolm X would not get the award campaigning it deserved. In reality, Warner did extra promotion, sending videocassettes to Academy members much earlier than usual, while the movie was still in theaters.
This year, studio budgets for Academy campaigns have been slashed in half. In the greenback-happy ’80s, studios spent at least $3-7 million on the print ad components of Academy campaigns, which also consist of postcards, screenings, the occasional party, plus soundtrack and videos mailed to Academy members.
Insiders say ad budgets are now closer to $1-2 million per studio.
This year, Columbia and Fox developed distinct design features for ads that immediately associate the film with the studio.
“We do advertising primarily to get the notice of the Academy members, but while you’re at it, it’s never a bad thing to point out that all these achievements were facilitated by your studio,” the Columbia source explained. “That’s aimed toward all our constituents, from Wall Street to Hollywood.”
Does all of this ad fuss really affect a film’s chances? Academy members admit that it does. “If you haven’t seen a picture, and you see a lot of trade ads for it, it makes you think maybe you’ve missed something and you go back and see it,” said Academy member John Michaeli, a publicist for Buena Vista Television. “You may even be encouraged to go see a movie for the second time to watch it more closely.”
Copyright Adweek L.P. (1993)