×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Awards Campaigns Harken Back to Oscar’s Earliest Days

Some people seem to think Oscar campaigns are a recent phenomenon. In truth, they are as old as the awards themselves: In Hollywood, creativity and marketing have always gone hand in hand.

While many contenders get the heebie-jeebies at the word “campaign,” it’s all part of a long tradition that includes screenings, handshaking — and ads.

On March 18, 1931, Variety ran a full-page ad headlined “Take it again, Norma!” MGM congratulated Norma Shearer on her win for “The Divorcee” and predicted she would be nominated again for “Strangers May Kiss.” The ad showed an Oscar statuette, though that image has long been banned from subsequent ads.

Among the earliest uses of the word “consideration” was in 1948, when RKO touted several films, including “Mourning Becomes Electra” and “The Farmer’s Daughter.”

Over the years, the campaigning has sometimes been subtle, sometimes blatant. In the late-1950s and early ’60s, Lustre-Creme shampoo ran a series of ads congratulating actresses on their nominations, including Audrey Hepburn for “The Nun’s Story” as well as Elizabeth Taylor, Susan Hayward, Janet Leigh and Shirley MacLaine. These were de facto FYC ads.

March 18, 1931: Variety ran a full-page ad from MGM congratulating the actress.
Variety

On the downside, Chill Wills helped pioneer over-the-top campaigns, as another trade paper ran an ad promoting his supporting work, saying “We of ‘The Alamo’ cast are praying — harder than the real Texans prayed for their lives at the Alamo — for Chill Wills to win the Oscar.”

On March 22, 1961, director-star John Wayne rebutted with a full-page Variety ad disavowing his company’s knowledge of the campaign, calling Wills’ tactic “reprehensible.” Wayne added, “I refrain from using stronger language because I’m sure his intentions were not as bad as his taste.”

On the other hand, spoofs of campaigns also go way back. In January 1976, the filmmakers of “Smile” (directed by Michael Ritchie, written by Jerry Belson) took out an ad as darkly funny as the film itself: “Please read this ad carefully. (It’s the last one we can afford.)” And it said if Academy members were among the 204 million Americans who didn’t see the film, they could attend a screening on the MGM lot.

On Feb. 1, 1979, Variety ran a page 1 story about Charles Powell, Universal’s senior exec in charge of advertising. Powell told the Los Angeles Advertising Club that the six major studios would be spending $300,000 each in search of Oscars that year — a total of $1.8 million. In a luncheon talk to an overflow crowd at the BevHilton Hotel, Powell noted that there were 3,600 voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences — meaning the studios were spending $500 to reach each voter.

March 25, 1969: It’s the simplicity of the ad for “Isadora” that speaks volumes.
Variety

Some people seem to think campaigns were born with the films of 1998. “Shakespeare in Love” scored a best picture win over “Saving Private Ryan,” an Oscar upset that coincided with the launch of many websites. Looking for a new angle on the most widely covered entertainment night of the year, many new bloggers concluded that campaigns were the determining factor. In truth, most of the bloggers overlooked the obvious: “Shakespeare” was about the joy of acting and the Academy’s biggest branch is actors. But ever since then, analyses of campaigns has been a big factor of the season.

Screeners started going out in the late 1980s, and a few decades later, a different element began to dominate the season: Q&A sessions. On Nov. 30, 2000, DreamWorks scheduled a screening of “Gladiator,” followed by a Q&A with director Ridley Scott. It was theoretically tied to the film’s DVD release, but the screening/Q&A combo — at the Academy’s Goldwyn Theater, no less — was closely watched by rivals. After the film won the best-picture Oscar, every other studio scheduled a slew of Q&As the following season.

And 2003 saw the launch of the Variety Screening Series, in which the Q&As were packaged together. The goal was to get people to see the films and see them on the big screen. The first year of VSS included screenings of “Master and Commander,” “Seabiscuit” and the film that eventually took home the top prize, “The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King.” The following year, other websites and print publications began their own screening series.

More Film

  • Michael B. JordanAFI Awards Luncheon, Los

    Film News Roundup: Michael B. Jordan's Hitman Drama 'Silver Bear' Gets Director

    In today’s film news roundup, Michael B. Jordan’s “The Silver Bear” finds a director, biopic “Running for My Life” is in the works, Fox is using new trailer compliance software and the 14-hour “La Flor” gets distribution. DIRECTOR ATTACHMENT Gerard McMurray, director of “The First Purge,” will write and direct Michael B. Jordan’s thriller “The [...]

  • Kevin Costner Diane Lane

    Kevin Costner, Diane Lane to Reunite in Suspense Thriller 'Let Him Go'

    Focus Features has tapped Kevin Costner and Diane Lane to star as a husband and wife in the suspense thriller “Let Him Go.” The two also collaborated on “Man of Steel” and “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.” Thomas Bezucha (“The Family Stone”) is set to direct his own screenplay, based on Larry Watson’s novel [...]

  • Chris Hemsworth Hulk Hogan

    Chris Hemsworth to Play Hulk Hogan in Biopic for Netflix

    Netflix is in the early stages of developing a Hulk Hogan biopic with Chris Hemsworth attached to star as the wrestling legend and produce. Netflix has obtained the exclusive life rights and consulting services from Terry Gene Bollea AKA Hulk Hogan. Todd Phillips, whose credits include “War Dogs” and “The Hangover” trilogy, is attached to [...]

  • Rooftop Films Announces Filmmakers Fund Grant

    Rooftop Films Announces Filmmakers Fund Grant Winners

    Swedish documentary filmmaker Anastasia Kirillova and “Negative Space” co-directors Ru Kuwahata and Max Porter are among the filmmakers who will receive grants from Rooftop Films to help complete their upcoming projects. Kirilova will be awarded $20,000 to finish her film, “In the Shadows of Love,” while collaborators Kuwahata and Porter will receive $10,000 for “Dandelion [...]

  • Jim Gianopulos

    Paramount Chief Jim Gianopulos Unveils Diversity Initiative

    Paramount Pictures chairman and CEO Jim Gianopulos has announced that all studio productions will be required to complete a plan to enhance diversity. Wednesday’s reveal follows Paramount’s commitment to participating in Time’s Up and Annenberg Inclusion Initiative’s 4% Challenge. The name is derived from women having directed only 4% of the country’s top grossing movies [...]

  • Leave No Trace

    Oscar Analysts Are Sincere -- but Often Totally Wrong

    With Oscars arriving Feb. 24, we can expect multiple “who will win/who should win” columns. There will also be a flurry of post-show analyses about the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and why members voted the way they did. Since AMPAS never releases polls or voting tallies, these pundits will never be contradicted [...]

  • Green Book spiderman into the spider

    On Eve of Oscars, Variety’s Film Experts Answer Three Pressing Questions

    We continue to live in a divided world, with the current political landscape in the United States a seemingly endless hotbed of tumult and acrimony. Issues of racism, bigotry, diversity and gender equality drive the creative players as well, with Oscar-nominated films parlaying said themes into compelling, thought-provoking cinema. To analyze 2018 in big-screen entertainment, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content