Commentary

And the Paid Search Oscars Go To...

Around 40 million people tune in to watch the Academy Awards each year, making the Oscars the second-biggest annual TV ratings draw, right behind the Super Bowl. And not unlike the Super Bowl, the buzz surrounding the Oscars has created an economy of its own, one with advertisers clamoring for airtime and attention, and viewers expecting to be entertained by the ads.

With that in mind (and coming off Reprise Media's recent Super Bowl Search Marketing Scorecard), we wondered how the Oscar race was playing out in search. Here's what we found the weekend just before the awards, as Oscar buzz really started to hit its stride.

Content Sites Dominate

Not surprisingly, content sites and media companies overwhelmingly dominated the paid search landscape on Oscar-related searches, capitalizing on the event's popular photos and news coverage - as well as nominee lists, interviews and other content surrounding the show -to boost their page views. These sites, like TheEnvelope.com, EW.com, and even NYTimes.com, promoted their custom Oscars 2008 landing pages, bidding on Oscar-related phrases (like "Oscars 2008"), as well as categories (like "best film Oscar") and nominees (like "George Clooney" or "Juno"). Also making a respectable showing were party-related sites, like evite.com.

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Who's Missing?

On the other hand, we only saw three ads from studios in our searches: Warner Brothers ran an ad promoting the Michael Clayton DVD, and Universal did the same for American Gangster. In what may be their most anticipated night of the year, most of the big movie studios were missing in action when it came to paid search, just as they had been during the Super Bowl.

Very few studios took advantage of Sunday's Oscars search-spike to actually promote their movies and the stars that were up for prizes. They should have been visible in search, not only for branding purposes, but to promote upcoming films featuring this year's Oscar nominees or DVDs that starred those noms.

One surprising ad that did this came from Sony Pictures, which pushed DVD pre-orders of Goya's Ghost, a movie starring Javier Bardem, by buying the phrase "no country for old men," the name of the Miramax/Paramount picture up for best film that also stars Bardem. Miramax/Paramount should have bought the term as well, in order to pre-sell No Country for Old Men DVDs. The same goes for New Line Cinema, which made Bardem's 2007 film Love in the Time of Cholera.

And The Winners Are...

Dove Cream Oil: In its partnership with MSN, Dove took a page out of the Doritos Super Bowl playbook and sponsored a user-submitted commercial video contest for its Dove Cream Oil product, the winner of which was determined by online voting and aired during the Oscars. The company ran TV ads that were supplemented by a paid search campaign. Though its keyword list could have been more extensive, Dove did appear in top paid results for the key term "oscars," with Oscar-related ad copy to encourage the click-through. Their landing page was a little slow, but it was relevant and engaging, with five videos to watch and the ability to vote and comment.

Blockbuster Total Access: Blockbuster promoted in-store and online rentals with a paid search ad that had Oscars-specific copy, and that ad's URL sent users to an Oscars-specific landing page where they could print out mini ballots, read about the nominees, and rent movies. This was a very good play, and it likely had more impact because rival Netflix was mostly missing.

Turner Classic Movies: The classic film channel has been showing past Oscar-winning films all month long, and it appeared prominently in paid search for nominee names and Oscar-related phrases. TCM had an extensive keyword list, and their promotion is actually pretty compelling for Oscar buffs.

The Independent Spirit Awards: The Independent Spirit Awards are put on by IFC and happen right around the Oscars each year. It's a much smaller awards show that frequently shares some of the same nominees as the Oscars, and it piggy-backs on Oscar buzz in real life. This year, the show was sponsored by Piaget, a jewelry company that ran paid search to promote its website's live coverage of the event. Though the company didn't buy any Oscar terms, it did show up for many nominee names. Next year, a good strategy would be not only to buy Oscar terms, but also to tailor its ads to better speak to users' search queries; it's unlikely the average person will click on the Piaget ad that pops up for "Philip Seymour Hoffman" when the copy is so sponsor-focused.

In Sum...

We were happy to see some companies, namely Blockbuster and Dove, creating smart, web-based promotions based on the Oscars, and surprised by Sony Pictures' aggressive play to sell Goya's Ghost with competitor keywords.

But like the Super Bowl, the search landscape of the Oscars still has a long way to go. Very few actual Oscar advertisers were present in search, but more egregious was the absence of the studios. With the millions spent on promoting movies and DVDs via TV, print, and other media, these studios should be closing the loop with paid search. And they should take advantage of the frenetic attention the Oscars receive to do so.

Hershberg is managing partner of Reprise Media, where he is responsible for overseeing the technology, sales, client services, media, and product marketing of the entire organization. Prior to founding Reprise Media in 2003, Hershberg spent over 10 years in the interactive space in a series of consulting and management roles, specializing in technology and media. Hershberg served as vice president of Strategic Development at Ask Jeeves.

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