New Oscars Host Kevin Hart Hopes His Branding Mojo Can Stop the Show’s Ratings Spiral

He began his marketing push Tuesday night to his 65.9 million Instagram followers

Hart said hosting the Oscars is “the opportunity of a lifetime for me as a comedian.” Photography by Scott Witter for Adweek
Headshot of Jason Lynch

As ABC and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences try to stop the Oscar’s steep ratings declines—the 18-49 audience, which had already hit an all-time low in 2017, fell another 25 percent during March’s telecast—they have tapped a new celebrity host who seems to have the Midas touch with brands: Kevin Hart.

And the comedian-actor-producer-athlete-CEO, whom Adweek dubbed the hardest working man in branding in a September cover story, began working his marketing mojo immediately Tuesday night. Instead of making the hosting announcement via a press release as usual, Hart shared the news directly with his 65.9 million Instagram followers.

He called hosting the Oscars “the opportunity of a lifetime for me as a comedian” and vowed, “I will be sure to make this years Oscars a special one. …Now it’s time to rise to the occasion.”

Hart—who will emcee the 91st Academy Awards on Sunday, Feb. 24—has built his thriving career on rising to the occasion time and time again, and working overtime to build up his brand partners, as well as his own brand.

“I have the talent to make other people feel very comfortable in any environment that I’m in,” he explained to Adweek in September. “I’m not threatening, and that’s how I’m able to put myself in front of all audiences, all ages. It doesn’t matter your race, your size, ethnicity, age. I’m comfortable in all of those environments because of the person that I am, which allows me to build my brand even more. That’s the talent of being a likable personality.”

Hart, who is taking over for Jimmy Kimmel, the host of the last two Oscars, has become a proven marketing and business guru, giving huge social bumps to brand partners like Tommy John, Lyft and Old Spice.

“I’m at a point where I’ve studied entertainment, I’ve studied comedy, I’ve studied producing, I understand developing, I understand business to where I’m now incorporating all of those things into my every day,” he told Adweek. “This is the way that I move, which is putting me where I would like to call my prime. And when you finally find out that you’re in your prime, you’re a force to be reckoned with, because then it becomes about you using that to the best of your advantage to become the mogul that you’re destined to be.”

As Valerie Aurilio, executive creative director of brand consulting firm Landor, noted in September, “Kevin thinks strategically about how he can help grow the brand. He’s not just a face; he’s involved and working to build culture and entertainment around the brand, which is imperative for brand growth. The range of relevance he brings to the table cannot be ignored. A celeb that is edgy and unpredictable enough to feel niche but, in reality, brings with him a huge following and opens up diverse demographics, is a very desirable partner.”

And that’s just the kind of partner the Oscars was looking for as it tries to reverse the show’s ratings free fall. Just 26.5 million people watched this year’s ceremony, making it the lowest-rated Academy Awards telecast in total viewers since 1974, which is as far back as Nielsen has telecast data.

The Oscars had a 6.8 rating among adults 18-49, a 25 percent drop from 2017’s 9.1 demo rating, which at the time was the smallest 18-49 Oscars audience on record.

If there is anyone invested in turning around his brands, it’s Hart. During a keynote conversation at Adweek’s Brandweek event in September, he talked about his willingness to do anything to market his projects, including standing in Times Square in the rain for hours to convince passersby to see his recent comedy, Night School.

“I bust my ass for a reason,” he said. “I’m not doing it to lose; I’m doing it to win big.”

@jasonlynch Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.