First article in our 5 weeks series on Campaigning for an Oscar!
With the Oscar nominations being announced yesterday, many production companies will be anxiously waiting to see if their advertising campaigns (commonly known as “For Your Consideration” adverts) have paid off. For the last few months they have spent huge amounts of money for buying advertising space in the trade magazines to gain awareness of their movies among the voting members of the awards shows in the hopes to garner a nominations and later on an actual award. Although many of these campaigns are now advertising to the many award shows around now and spreading to television networks, they initially started with the Oscars.
The adverts began in 1935, when MGM bought advertising space in the Hollywood Reporter for its movie Ah, Wilderness. Its advert featured MGM’s Leo the Lion dressed in white tie and tails and an Oscar statuette with the words “Leo, you’ve given so much. Get ready to receive.” The advert was unsuccessful, the film received no nominations, and no adverts were run until 1940.
RKO placed an advert to remind voters of Ginger Rodgers’ performance in Kitty Foyle. It featured quotes from respected critics who stated in their reviews that Ginger should win an award. It was the first successful campaign as Ginger Rogers’ won the best actress category in the Oscars. Within the next few years the campaigns became more popular. The first advert that used the now famous “For Your Consideration” quote was in 1948 by RKO for six of their movies. It was quite successful with five of the films being nominated for awards.
However, not all adverts were as polite or as tasteful. In 1960, the producers of The Alamo ran a huge campaign that implied that if you didn’t vote for the movie, you were unpatriotic. When complaints about it began they replied in their next advert that,
- “If men seeking the Presidency can be understood and admired for stating frankly and unhibitedly, ‘I want your vote,’ then there is no reason why men and women devoted to the fine art of film entertainment should be less timid in expressing their hopes and aspirations.”
Despite any controversy from the campaign, it garnered six nominations; however it paled in comparison to what happened next. Chill Wills, the only actor nominated for the film, decided that the film campaign was not good enough and he hired his own publicist. Together they placed ads featuring the name of every voting member of the academy with the message “Win, lose or draw, you’re all my cousins and I love you all.” This received backlash but another ad was made stating,
- “We of ‘The Alamo’ cast are praying harder than the real Texans prayed for their lives in the Alamo for Chill Wills to win the Oscar as best supporting actor. Cousin Chill’s acting was great.”
Some publications refused to publish it and the backlash became so bad that the director and star of the film, John Wayne, took out an ad to state his disapproval of it and that it had nothing to do with the film’s production company. Not surprisingly, Chill Wills did not win but the film did win one Oscar for best sound. 
This method is generally considered the worst way to advertise one’s self however there have been others that have chosen this method. The majority were unsuccessful, however last year Melissa Leo took out her-own adverts, which although caused uproar amongst the press. She did win best supporting actress for her performance in The Fighter though. Her reasoning was that as she was unable to land magazine covers because of her age, and therefore not receive the press coverage like those who are younger do, she decided to take matters into her own. Perhaps this was because the adverts were tasteful compared to those of the past.
Not all adverts are taken out to try and gain a nomination. Some are taken out to point out why a film should not win or be nominated. The most recent example of this is an advert by the actress Kim Novak just recently. In it she stated that the music score used in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (in which she starred in) had been re used in the film The Artist.
Of course “For your consideration” adverts are not the only way to campaign in award season. Parties are thrown and interviews with the stars can help sway the vote. Novelty items (as well as glossy books, pamphlets and even scripts) can also be made and sent out. For example this year’s film The Descendent, a ukulele was sent out to voters! Also as technology advanced, copies of the films were posted to members. Adverts now feature in online trade websites and Facebook. Some production companies set up “For Your Consideration” websites!
This year however, the Academy has tighten its rules for campaigns to ensure those production companies without the money to spend on massive advertisement have a fair chance at nominations. For example after nominations, anyone employed with a nominated film may not do more than two screenings with question and answer panels afterward. No food or drinks are allowed at these events either. Mailing promotions must be reduced as much as possible and it is preferred now to email them. Websites are only allowed to use the same basic promotion that is found in the mailings and no quotes from academy members are allowed (for more information click here ). We’ll have to wait till the 26th of February to see if the rules will have made the playing field more level.