Content marketing lessons from the Oscar nominees

02nd March 2014

Hollywood stars will be heading up the red carpet on Sunday eager to take home an Oscar or two (and pretending they haven’t written an acceptance speech yet). Whoever wins, the Oscars are really a celebration of the industry, and Tinseltown certainly knows how to create content that connects with audiences.

Brands have always realised the importance of content marketing in one form or another. It’s not only a way to show brand values but to offer something that genuinely interests target audiences which ultimately develops trust and a long-term relationship. Just as you’ll fork out to see the latest from your favourite director or actor, you’re more likely to buy from a brand which shares quality useful/interesting/funny content.

To win their own Oscar, marketers need to create packages of content which rise above the noise. So, what can content marketing learn from the best movie nominations?

True stories at the Oscars

Six out of the nine nominations are based on true stories. Their ‘truth’ adds gravitas and authenticity to the narratives. As audiences at some level we’re wondering, “did that really happen?”

Content marketing can also use the true story to add impact. A really good example is the Google maps ad for Saroo Brierley’s Homeward Journey.


User generated content are essentially true stories, and brands shouldn’t shy away from them – you just need to be prepared to use them effectively across channels. Advertisers can share users’ experiences to create compelling ads – again creating authenticity.

Human interest in content marketing

Related to the real-life story is genuine human interest – a key way to engage with your audience. Successful movies make you feel that the stories matter. As content marketers, you need to ask:

– Does this story matter?

– Will our audience care?

– Will they share?

Content marketers, much like movie-makers, need to create stories that people care about, and which in turn makes them care about the brand. You can create those stories around your own team or how your product helps people. However those stories, which aren’t directly about your product, but relate to your values are more likely to be shared by your audience.

Recently, Vogue commissioned films which don’t directly sell their mags, but still stress their personality, such as in this humorous short film for Vogue where Kate Winslet googles herself to see if she is the world’s best actress of all time.

No matter what your brand – you will have a narrative. You just need to find it and then share via relevant channels.

This ad from Dell has an emotional story which matches a Hollywood tale. A girl is told she’ll never fly but uses her laptop to make her dreams come true.

In keeping with the movie theme, Honda created a human interest story around the drive-in movie theatre. People voted for which drive-ins they wanted to save. Here’s the big reveal.

Setting the scene

The movies in the nominations span a wide time frame from the nineteenth century to the near future, but they all set the scene. In Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity, the emotional resonance of the deceptively simple story is brought to life because the space setting is so believable. Whatever story you’re telling through your content, you suspend your disbelief through the setting.

We return to the 80s in Dallas Buyers Club and The Wolf of Wall Street. This made us think of #SingItKitty ad which was released a week or so ago for Three, which expertly uses the Internet’s favourite – cats – and 80s pop to perfection.

Recently with a Superbowl triumph, Radioshack, created ‘The 80s want their store back’ starring retro personalities, such as Hulk Hogan, Mary Lou Retton and Alf.  The retail brand recognised that the market found their model outmoded, but used self-depreciating humour to reposition itself.


Again it’s about thinking about your audience and what time periods or trends will resonate with them. Then make that world believable.

Suspense and surprises

 All the films keep the viewer wondering how the story will end. Gravity and Captain Phillips are based on suspense, so we’re kept on edge waiting… When you create content, it can be useful to think of ways to keep readers or viewers watching so that they want to find out more.

It’s difficult to look away before the end of Volvo’s video stunt with a ballerina moving across a tightrope between two trucks. And we’re not alone in feeling this – over 400,000 watched over the first two days of the campaign.


The twist in ads or content can be a one-trick concept – once viewers get it, they’ll move on. However, this example of a twist in Robinson’s ad works well to engage the audience and reinforces brand values clearly.

Can you use the content to change the way people think about your product by leading them one way and then turning their expectations around?

Technology helps us interact

What does, Her, Spike Jonze’s sci-fi romance about a lonely writer’s romance with a Siri-like voice tell us about content marketing? Call us incurable romantics if you will, but this brought us to think about Google’s hummingbird update. This new algorithm moves away from a simplistic use of keywords to a more complex understanding of what people want based on the way they ask questions via voice search like Siri.

Content marketing should not just be used to merely get rankings. That’s important of course, but you should always think about what’s relevant to your audience (and that will link with what they’re searching for), this content will in turn get shared and then social signals should help you move up the rankings.

The human touch is vital to effective communication with your audience via social media. It sounds obvious but when you tweet your customers online, remember they’re real people, not just an avatar. It’s about real conversations.

Characters in video marketing campaigns

 From Solomon Northup to Philomena, from Ron Woodruff to Woody Grant, the characters in all these movies are people that we could empathise or connect with at some level.

Toshiba and Intel’s the Beauty Inside worked because we could empathise with the character. In a six week campaign, Alex, wakes up a different character every week but stays the same inside. The campaign fostered interaction with its audience via Facebook where you could talk to Alex and audition to be him. He chronicles his life on his laptop, so the beauty is inside him and the computer.


Put your audience at the heart of any marketing or content campaign. What kind of characters would they empathise with?

What are your favourites to win at the Oscars?

For Production Assistant, Dan, his favourite for Best Picture is undoubtedly The Wolf of Wall Street for its hilarious performances from both Leo and Jonah (with the potential to win lead and supporting role). He’s also a fan of Captain Phillips for its great screenplay adaptation and overall delivery and performances.

Our Creative Director, John Lanyon, also thinks that Gravity will win a few awards – great for the British film industry!

However, in Team Hurricane’s office poll 12 Years a Slave is our favourite to win with our hopes pinned on Chiwetel Ejiofor for best actor.

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