Brands use ceremony to leverage products

Award season is not only a love fest for stars, the red carpet also has become a match made in heaven for brands.

Although brands are not allowed officially on the Academy Awards’ red carpet — there’s no logo-heavy signage as background, for instance — look closer and you will find brands basking in Oscar’s golden glow.

Most obviously they are represented in the couture gowns, jewelry and fashion accessories worn and exposed by talent, but notice the cars that nominees arrive in or the champagne they toast with, and product placement soon becomes more visible.

“The Academy Awards is entertainment at its sexiest and a high-class affair that has a definite halo effect for brands,” says Tom Meyer, prexy of Davie Brown Entertainment, an entertainment marketing consulting firm.

Upscale brands seek out that association with celebrity and glamour, “all those things that movie stars enjoy that are aspirational for consumers,” Meyer observes.

Hyundai’s Genesis sedan, Perrier-Jouet champagne and Sebastian professional hair-care products are among the hundreds of brands that participate in sponsorships, product placement and advertising during award season. Despite the economy’s downturn, there seems to be no shortage of pre-Oscar VIP lounges, where products are practically flung into celebrities’ arms. Yet several advertisers have had to walk away from Oscar. Longtime sponsors General Motors and L’Oreal canceled plans to buy spots this year, while Coca-Cola, American Express and MasterCard have bought fewer ads than usual.

In 2003, Toyota made an indelible impression as multiple stars arrived at the Oscars via their own chauffeured hybrid Priuses. This year, Audi is loaning its new diesel-powered Q7 TDIs to select nominees for transport to prominent weekend events and the Oscars.

Scott Keogh, Audi of America’s chief marketing officer, finds significant synergy between high-profile entertainment events and Audi’s brand image.

“There’s no question Hollywood informs consumer perception,” Keogh notes. “If movies or TV deem a model the ‘hot car,’ that image can drive desirability in the market,” he finds. Keogh contends there’s a measurable spike in consumer interest after events: Website traffic goes up markedly, and visits to showrooms increase.

“Rubbing a brand’s shoulders with high-profile folks does make a difference in consumers’ buying and decisionmaking,” says Greg Sato, Fiji Water’s Western regional event marketing manager. The bottled water is backstage with E! during post-ceremony interview sessions. That positioning “helps sales and influences brand decisions not just with consumers but with food and beverage directors,” says Sato, who has seen an uptick in sales on both wholesale and consumer levels after award season coverage.

Champagne houses are experts at linking with award season events: Moet & Chandon bottles are front and center during the Golden Globes’ telecast; Mickey Rourke took his BAFTA trophy to the press room accompanied by a bottle of Moet’s White Star. At today’s Women in Film reception, Perrier-Jouet toasts nominees with a special vintage. The Champagne placement is in line with the beverage’s target demographic as the event aligns the brand with talented and influential women, according to Krista Drew, public relations director for Pernod Ricard wines and champagnes. And Sterling Vineyards will be the featured wine at this year’s Governors Ball.

With all advertising expenditures now under the microscope for cost effectiveness, marketers may continue to find that celebrity seeding and red carpet appearances are the most efficient way to grow a brand.

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