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."