Text Ads Come To The Oscars

I am years past caring who wins the Oscars, but I remain a total sucker for watching the event every year. Because, you never know. A Hollywood workhorse like Jack Palance may finally get the nod and do something incredible like a one-armed push-up that a smart host like Billy Crystal could riff on the rest of the night. The nominee-cam might catch a loser cursing when that undeserving ingénue wins instead. Someone might trip on all of the unctuous ruffles that seemed to have attacked everyone's gowns this year.

But the one thing you can almost always count on at the Oscars is that the documentary film winners are the likeliest to make a political statement that will make everyone uncomfortable and cue the orchestra for an early speech cut-off. But I have to say even I wasn't expecting someone to hold up a sign with a short code in the middle of an acceptance speech. When Participant Media's documentary on dolphin killing in Japan, "The Cove," won in its category, one of the filmmakers held up a sign on stage with a mobile call to action: "Text Dolphin to 44144." You gotta love the fact that in the midst of multi-million-dollar fashion and beauty spots at this advertising "Super Bowl for women," someone manages to slip in a low-res text ad in the margins of the show.

"We knew they were going to do that," says Matt Silk, SVP Waterfall Media, the company that managed the SMS campaign for Participant. "We didn't know that the Oscars would not like it, but we knew they were going to push the envelope. We were ecstatic." The text campaign is to sign a petition to stop the dolphin massacre the film chronicles. The show's producers quickly panned away from the sign as the winners were ushered off stage and the orchestra swelled, but their work had been done. "We saw a steady stream of subscriptions coming in for the next five hours," says Silk. "The last time I checked they had jumped 30% to 40%." But the unanticipated value-add came from Twitter. Hundreds of Tweets mentioned the short code and slammed the Oscars for cutting short the call to action. It kept the meme alive into the next day.

Silk says that the Oscar stunt actually embodied a full-bore SMS strategy the company has taken with the film. It is losing no opportunity to get the shortcode out. "What made this successful is that they really thought through all the different channels and media," he says. The mobile call to action was seen during the film's screenings and at the various awards it garnered. At the end of the new DVD release of the film, viewers are again prompted. Part of the point of the film and all the media surrounding it has been to get people to sign a petition that is going to President Obama and the Japanese ambassador. The call to action returns a link to a mobile petition site with a simple form fill-in.

Silk says that this was all about the simplicity and the ubiquity. Building a subscriber list requires more than token mentions of a short code. "You have to embrace mobile," he says. "You have to build it into all the different places and take advantage of all the different media."

Obsessive? Maybe. Strident? Of course. Impolite at the Oscars? Well, yeah -- but otherwise we are left with those three other tedious hours of predictable fare. And there certainly is a lesson here for that world of brand marketers who think a shot code bug on the lower left of a print ad is really "doing mobile."

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5 comments about "Text Ads Come To The Oscars".
  1. Barry Dennis from netweb/Omni , March 9, 2010 at 12:39 p.m.

    Ref the Cove and the "Message."
    Kudos for agressiveness, lack of consideration, and crassness. No different than stars who use the pulpit to promote some pet cause or their version of uncaring attitudes towards...everything.
    I appreciate their message, hate their boring crassness.
    Count me OUT for support.

  2. Kirsten Mcmullen from 4INFO , March 9, 2010 at 12:53 p.m.

    To me, the interesting part of this was how the call to action (Text DOLPHIN to 44144) was shown, but without all the normal required disclosures, such as frequency and "message and data rates may apply." By simply following the call to action I was opted in to receive up to 30 messages/month. As a consumer, I'm totally ok with that. I was told what I was getting after I opted in, and I was also told how to opt-out, so I could do that right away if I wanted. Good enough to me. But as a mobile marketing vendor, I'm concerned that carriers might hold vendors responsible for failing to include all required elements for advertising a standard rate short code subscription messaging program, even when the call to action is displayed in such an informal manner as a sign at the Academy Awards. Just more things for our industry to think about!

  3. Mike Simms from j. simms agency , March 9, 2010 at 12:58 p.m.

    Excellent concluding point. Appropriateness of The Cove team's tactics aside, for mobile to be a viable tool in the marketing mix businesses and organizations need to weave it into every aspect of their current programs. Kudos to the marketers at Participant for creating a comprehensive program around their call to action including the link to a mobile-friendly site. One of the biggest yet most common mistakes we see is using SMS or Twitter to send folks to a site they can't view on their device.

  4. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , March 9, 2010 at 2:08 p.m.

    Those who are responsible for killing dolphins should be gathered and corralled into a pen with nothing left to eat besides vegetables for the rest of their lives with an electronic fence surrounding them. That being said, the Oscars is not the place to advocate a political stance on anything although the audience may agree with my opening statement. Just as much as there should be dolphin support whether through a texting gimmick or another statement, many Oscar supporters may more than hesitate if an offensive policy were to be held up. This goes into the category of just because you can. You want to support the act of texting instead of paying attention to what is in front of you? Buy an ad.

  5. Howie Goldfarb from Blue Star Strategic Marketing , March 9, 2010 at 2:53 p.m.

    Damn I missed the whole thing Steve! Thanks for the great write up. The Oscars are touchy because Hollywood is both very Charitable especially to the Left type causes, but plenty of Righties. And of course film making is not environmentally friendly. I love the daring and the concept. Glad it worked. Now I have a text to send =)