Behind the Oscars: Hollywood's Top Tips for Stellar Marketing

The campaign to win an Oscar in serious business--it takes months and costs somewhere around $20 million. But the rewards are sweet. Here's what you can learn from the marketing masterminds behind the Best Picture nominees.

If you think the Oscars are swank, look at the size of the campaigns movies launch to win them: an estimated $10 million to $20 million. Each. It's serious business. Films nominated for best picture pulled a fifth of their revenue in the month between nomination and awards and winners see 12 percent after getting the gold. What can you learn from Hollywood's master marketers? Plenty.--Erik Sherman

Timing Is Everything American Hustle and Wolf of Wall Street got released late in the calendar year for a double benefit: They're fresher in the minds of Academy voters and all the attention boosts box office sales. American Hustle made $40 million out of $144 million domestically since the nomination; Wolf got a 36 percent post-nomination bump.

Avoid Bad Press with a Light Hand Virtually every Oscar season sees at least one whisper campaign aiming to scuttle some picture's chance. Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine fell to the wayside in the wake of resurfaced child abuse charges. Allen and his proxies fought back hard. Maybe too hard. Both Wolf of Wall Street and Captain Phillips also faced challenges, but kept a lighter touch in response--and a spot on the roster.

The Slow Build Oscar campaigns are typically a six-month affair to create buzz and market support. The premier for 12 Years a Slave was in late August 2013 at the Telluride Film Festival. Official U.S. opening was 19 cinemas in October. By late January, it was in 1,231. Now the movie's billboard in Hollywood says, "It's time."

Take Feedback and Go Social It's easy to misstep during a long campaign. Some people were offended that Dallas Buyers Club star Matthew McConaughey didn't mention AIDS in his Golden Globes acceptance speech and that Jared Leto joked about waxing his legs to play a transsexual character. Right after, the film's Facebook page "paid tribute to AIDS victims."

Put the Whole Team to Work Marketing becomes the responsibility of everyone in a company because all might have a chance to make a difference. In a recent blitz of visits, American Hustle star Bradley Cooper and director David O. Russell double-teamed The Tonight Show. Russell also stopped by The Daily Show to talk with John Stewart.

Use Smart Humor No one likes a salesperson who is too needy and grasping. Cooperating with some self-deprecating humor can offer relief and offer a humanizing face. June Squibb of Nebraska has received her first Oscar nomination at age 84 and cooperated with Jimmy Kimmel by doing a spoof on introductory videos circulated to Academy voters.

Understand the Decision Process Sometimes marketing has to navigate a complex decision process among a group. Understanding the dynamics can mean the difference between winning and losing. The Oscars use a process of preferential balloting. Although 12 Years a Slave has significant acclaim, it may not be well-loved, according to industry watchers. Second choice Gravity could walk away the winner.

Avoid the Pitfall of Generic Branding You'd have a hard time giving a movie a more generic name than Her. Search any article for the string and you'll wind up in the middle of "here", "there", and "everywhere." Literally. Using social media research to understand the success of the movie about a love affair with an operating system becomes next to impossible.

Guerrilla Marketing Still Works Philomena Lee, the basis for the movie Philomena, made a high-profile trip to Washington to discuss adoption reform halfway between best picture nominations and ceremonies. It was a guerrilla move from the father of indie Oscar campaigns, Harvey Weinstein, who started the approach in 1990 with a successful meet-and-greet campaign for My Left Foot.

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