Oscars Aims to Fulfill New 'You're Invited' Tagline

Q&A: An Oscars Producer on the Slogan, the Montages and Bringing Back Song Performances

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- For the first time in the ceremony's 83-year history, the Oscars has a tagline.

The show's producers are going after a younger audience with hosts Anne Hathaway and James Franco.
The show's producers are going after a younger audience with hosts Anne Hathaway and James Franco. Credit: ABC

The catchphrase, "You're Invited," will be featured in all aspects of marketing for this year's Academy Awards, which air Feb. 27 on ABC. While the tagline may seem pretty straightforward for the movie industry's big dance -- usually the second most-watched TV event of the year next to the Super Bowl -- it's a big deal for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.

The historically conservative organization hired its first creative agency of record, Omelet L.A., in 2008 to help implement and accelerate changes to the octogenarian awards. Omelet subsequently helped the Academy develop its first iPhone app last year; a new version of the app arrived last week.

The "You're Invited" tagline was conceived last July by a collective including Omelet L.A.; the Academy's marketing chief, Janet Weiss; Academy President Tom Sherak; executives at ABC; and show producers Bruce Cohen and Don Mischer.

But a tagline probably isn't the only thing new in store for this year's ceremony.

Among other possible changes, the producers are close to bringing back musical performances of nominees for the Best Original Song -- performances shelved during last year's telecast by producers Adam Shankman and Bill Mechanic.

"We actually love the four nominated songs but haven't made an official decision yet," Mr. Cohen said. "That was the first official thing we were waiting for, to see what the nominated songs were. We're going to try to figure out if we're going to be able to perform them."

Nominees include "Coming Home" from "Country Strong" (as performed by Gwyneth Paltrow), "I See The Light" from "Tangled" (sung by Mandy Moore), "If I Rise" from "127 Hours" (co-written and sung by U.K. pop star Dido) and "We Belong Together" from "Toy Story 3" (written and performed by Randy Newman.)

With hosts Anne Hathaway and James Franco, a Best Actor nominee for "127 Hours," Messrs. Cohen and Mischer are also going after a younger audience for the historically older-skewing show. Last year's ratings among 18- to 34-year-olds actually declined 3% from the year before. And as ABC charges $1.7 million for a commercial in this year's ceremony, the cost to reach those viewers is going up for the first time in two years.

Two weeks before the Academy begins its takeover of the Kodak Theater in Hollywood, Advertising Age asked Mr. Cohen how the tagline and other changes will affect what viewers see on Feb. 27.

Ad Age: You're working with the Oscars' first-ever tagline, "You're Invited." In some years, the producers don't start working on plans until October and the Academy has to scramble to retrofit its existing ad campaign and show-format plans to meet the producers' needs. How did having the tagline in place last summer affect your strategy this year?

Bruce Cohen
Bruce Cohen Credit: Matt Petit/A.M.P.A.S.

Mr. Cohen: We think it was a very smart idea of Tom Sherak to bring on the producers earlier this year and one place where we hope it really will make a bit of a notable difference is in the advertising. What happened this year, which usually does not, is the luxury of time. They normally don't have the marketing folks sitting in with the producers that early, so we had some time to really think about the themes of the show, started talking to the marketing folks about that and came back with a campaign with our initial ideas. "You're Invited" is a headline example of how that worked.

Ad Age: Another big change to the show is the multiple camera angles of the red carpet, green room and press room that viewers will be able to stream live for the first time at Oscar.com. How does that tie in to this year's theme?

Mr. Cohen: That was a perfect example of "You're Invited," as is the digital media approach we're taking. We're really trying to present a great multi-screen experience for people who happen to be on computers or BlackBerrys also watching the show on TV. We're giving you a lot of different perspectives or ways into the show. No matter how disconnected you might feel from movie stars and the glamour of Hollywood, we do have a way in for you to experience the Oscars. It will be amazing if we can pull that off. The approach we're taking is, "How do we make the audience around the world feel that in as many ways as possible?"

To us, one really strong clear example of that was the P.S. 22 children's choir in Staten Island. We surprised them with the news in December that we wanted them to perform on the show. I went with Anne Hathaway to give the kids the news and the video got hundreds of thousands of hits online. P.S. 22's journey to the Oscars will also be featured on the Oscars itself, which should be really compelling. A lot of the kids have never been on a plane before, so by the time they appear on the show you can watch the show through the eyes of these 10-year-olds from this public elementary school. It's a great example of how that theme will come to life this year.

Ad Age: What changes can we expect from the show itself?

Mr. Cohen: We are hoping this year to celebrate the year in movies but also remind people what they love about the Oscars and their favorite films from the past. We have a whole wealth of tradition for the hundred years of the movie business and 83 years of the Oscars to pull from. We'll be leaving the present-day Kodak Theater at different times during the show and going to a favorite movie from a certain year [on stage]. We're hoping that it's an interactive experience -- providing a fun experience on Oscar.com about how we got there and why we're there. We're hoping to get the people watching the show using all these gadgets that will make them want to search [for the references online].

Ad Age: As you weigh whether or not to bring back the Original Song performances to the telecast, there's also lots of rumors that your hosts might be singing and dancing themselves. Care to confirm?

Mr. Cohen: We're talking to Anne and James about those opportunities.... What I will say is that we couldn't be more excited that they're our hosts. We've gotten a tremendous response from people who really seem to like them as well. When you have people as talented as Anne and James, you'd be crazy not to take advantage of as many of their talents as possible. If they have a talent we want to show it off.

Ad Age: The Academy appears to be working with more outside partners than ever before from a marketing perspective. How would you characterize the creative process between you, the Academy and your agency partners this year?

Mr. Cohen: It's really been a great collaboration. The idea from the beginning, which I hope we accomplish to some extent, we all created the show together. What the advertising campaign ended up being, what the publicity campaign ended up being and what the show itself will end up being are all designed to be a piece of a bigger puzzle and in consultation with each other. The promos are a really nice example of that, which we've gotten a phenomenal response to. Anne and James' funny wardrobe malfunction has been flying around the internet since it launched. The tone of those pieces came from the script writers from Omelet and ABC. They were able to come up with those ideas because they had a clear idea of what the show is. We weren't writing for Anne and James in a vacuum, so knowing what our ideas were and having seen the rundown in-depth should hopefully yield more payoff.

Ad Age: One frequent criticism of the Oscars is that the show runs way too long and can get bogged down by unnecessary montages and clip reels. Will we see those return?

Mr. Cohen: There are so many award shows on television and this is the one that celebrates the movies and only the movies. We wanted the show to be cinematic and showing clips from the films isn't necessarily cinematic.... We're focused on showing the stage and all the things happening on it; hopefully for the television audience that will feel like an exciting large-scale experience. Of course there will be some clip packages, but very few. When we're ready to present a specific Oscar we'll show some of the work in that category, or celebrate a genre or performance.

Ad Age: This is the second year the Oscars have had 10 Best Picture nominees. What are your thoughts on this year's list?

Mr. Cohen: It was a great year for movies. There's no movie in that bunch where you would say, "What's that doing there?" What's music to our ears is how many of those 10 movies are very popular and struck a huge chord with audiences both here and around the world. So combining those artistic achievements with the best hits and nominees will make it a really good year for the producers after the show.

Ad Age: Any thoughts on "King's Speech" vs. "The Social Network" for Best Picture? Can you choose sides as a producer?

Mr. Cohen: I am Switzerland this year. And I'm very happy with that.

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