MBPT Spotlight: Oscar’s Missed Chance: More Diverse Nominees Would Attract a Larger Audience and More Advertiser Interest

People love the Oscars. And advertisers do too. A recent study revealed that people are more likely to buy a product or service after seeing it advertised on the Oscars (31.1%) than they were after viewing those ads during the Super Bowl (6.9%). But it seems Oscar missed the point—the “more likely to buy point.

Given the importance of the Oscars to advertisers—and the importance of African-Americans to TV—it seems “Oscar-land” would have put the two together and recognized the value of that combination. But the lack of diversity in Oscar nominations is continued testament that the chutzpah and knowledge required to fully leverage Oscar in the increasingly diverse behemoth called the US of A does not exist.

Though not deemed worthy of nominations, it seems African-Americans can present awards really, really well. Zero percent of those short-listed were African-American; however, they made up a staggering 21% of Sunday night’s presenters. Add in the one Latino presenter and diverse representation rises to 23%. Sorry, no Asians can be added to the count…yet.

So why, at a time when culturally diverse communities continue to grow in size, influence and impact, would “Oscar-land” go on underleveraging its impact on diverse audiences and with advertisers? It can’t be naiveté. The hire of Cheryl Boone Isaacs as the first black president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences last year, with a stated goal of having diversity “at the heart of how she’ll make her mark” dispels that.

Maybe it’s a response to the uproar surrounding the lack of diverse nominations…again. Though this same ol’ song has been sung year after year, 2014 was the first time the Academy significantly increased cultural representation of its presenters—largely attributed to its new president—nearing a quarter of them all. Prior to that, there were exactly three non-Caucasian presenters in the decades following the passing of the U.S. Civil Rights Act in 1964; 1973, 1983, 1993 and 2003. So perhaps we should be grateful no ground was lost this year. However, more diverse presenters are no substitute for deficiencies in awarding talent and skill. When greater numbers of culturally inspired stories are greenlit, told and distributed, more divergent nominations acknowledging multicultured proficiency, prowess and perspectives are expected.

Or perchance it’s an assumption that African-Americans and other diverse audiences will tune in regardless of not having their experiences and lives reflected. After all, these audiences over index on TV viewership and have for a very long time. As a result, networks have been complacent; they’ve been lulled into believing it’s not necessary to deliver content tailored to diverse audiences, even in an era where choices abound.

But even networks have begun to smell the roses. Successful scripted programming grounded in nuanced, cultural insights has traditionally risk-adverse network executives rethinking models for ratings growth. Rather than chasing audiences they hoped for, many are now placing bets on the cultural viewer bonanza that already exists. And a funny thing happened in the process. Not only are diverse viewers responding, there’s more upside to be gained and others are engaging too. From ABC to Fox, content has hit a new stride—one that leverages culturally specific experiences to boost existing audiences, while attracting broader followers who share a common, collective spirit.

Advertisers love this scenario; it helps them build and grow strong relationships with an increasingly diverse public. They want people to know they’re respected and acknowledged—that they matter and make a difference. As those from diverse communities shift-shape the mix of goods and services needed to drive growth, marketers are in search of authentic ways to establish genuine connections with them. Programming tailored to diverse communities provides advertisers with legitimate, convincing and credible environments that can be leveraged to establish trustworthy relationships with these highly valued audiences.

Seriously Oscar???

The final ratings of Sunday’s ceremony are in and the writing is on the wall. With a 15% drop from last year, it was the least-viewed Academy Awards telecast since 2009.

Whatever the reason, imagine what a juggernaut for advertisers and viewers this year’s Oscars could have been if the talent, skills and stories of dissimilar audiences were combined—with the sizzle and suspense of anticipating which diverse nominees would win—alongside the pageantry, style, grace and elegance of it’s multi-hued presenters.

Maybe next year…

Esther “E.T.” Franklin leads the creative vision for the Human Experience Strategy Network in the Americas for Starcom MediaVest Group. By encouraging marketers to take what she calls an “inside-out” perspective, she’s helped iconic brands understand cultural identities and media consumption habits from local to global audiences.