Leading up to the 91st Academy Awards, the studios behind this year’s Best Picture nominees attempted to pave their way to an Oscar with extensive marketing campaigns. This year, marketing spend around the Oscars has reached new heights; companies with films nominated in multiple categories — like “A Star is Born” and “Roma” — spent between $20 and $30 million, according to Variety.
Those huge budgets covered everything from fancy nights out and gifts for awards voters, billboards, TV spots, and — of course — digital ads. Here at Pathmatics, we looked at digital ad spend related to each 2019 Best Picture nominee to see what channels and websites benefited the most from the Oscar buzz. Turns out, different studios took very different approaches to capturing awards voters’ attention.
Netflix Makes Social Push for “Roma”
Netflix’s Oscar campaign behind “Roma,” a black and white film centered on the life of a domestic servant in 1970s Mexico City, has been notoriously costly. News outlets report that the streaming service has spent $25 million — nearly twice the budget of the film and possibly the largest amount ever spent to promote a Best Picture nominee.
Pathmatics data shows that Netflix has spent over $740,100 on digital ads for “Roma,” it's first-ever best picture-nominated film, since the Oscar voting period began on January 7, 2019. That’s more than 25 times the amount of money Netflix spent on digital ads in the month leading up to the film’s release. The bulk of that money — 46%, or approximately $343,000 — went towards social ads, specifically on Facebook. Its second largest expenditure was $297,000 for desktop display ads, mostly at the beginning of the voting period. Those ads were placed primarily on The Hollywood Reporter’s website.
“Bohemian Rhapsody” Goes Light on Oscar-Baiting Digital Ads
20th Century Fox did not make headlines for its ad spend this Oscar season like Netflix and Warner Brothers. Instead, the studio has spent just under $300,000 on digital ads to promote the Freddie Mercury biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody” since voting opened. That’s a massive drop in spend: In the month before the movie opened, 20th Century Fox allocated $3,173,400 to digital channels, $1.5 million of which went to desktop display ads across a number of media sites.
During the Oscar voting period, 46% of the digital marketing dollars aimed at generating Oscar buzz for “Bohemian Rhapsody” went to desktop video ads. The bulk of those appeared on online film database IMDb.
“A Star is Born” Leads in Desktop Video Spend
In terms of digital ad spend during the Oscar voting period, “A Star is Born” far outpaced “Roma.” Warner Brothers has spent a whopping $1,772,000 since the voting period opened, but nearly all of that money (89%) went toward desktop video, mainly on YouTube and Vudu.com. Warner Brothers also spent $106,300 on display, mobile, and video ads on The New York Times website, and $52,200 on ads on The Hollywood Reporter website.
In the month leading up to the film’s release in October 2018, the studio spent nearly $600,000 on digital advertising, over half of which (55%) was dedicated to desktop video.
“Black Panther” Embraces Desktop Display
To promote its Oscar contender and box office record-breaking smash “Black Panther,” Marvel Studios has put 64% of its eggs in the display ad basket since Oscar voting opened, or $269,000 of its $420,400 digital ad budget.
It did the same leading up to the film’s release, just on a much larger scale: $4.6 million was spent on “Black Panther” display ads in the month before it opened in theaters.
“BlacKkKlansman” Narrows its Focus
“BlacKkKlansman,” Spike Lee’s biographical crime film released by Focus Features, has allocated just over $160,000 to digital ads to woo Oscar voters. Eighty-five percent of those were digital display ads; nearly 70% ended up on The Hollywood Reporter’s website.
Prior to the film’s release, Focus Features spent $1,010,400 on a much wider mix of digital ads; 40% went to Facebook, 28% to desktop video, and 17% to desktop display.
“The Favourite” Abandons Social Ads
Since Oscar voting opened on Jan. 7, Fox Searchlight has spent well over $400,000 promoting the historical black comedy “The Favourite.” Seventy-four percent of that budget went to desktop display ads, which were placed primarily on The Hollywood Reporter’s website in February.
Only 7% of digital ads for “The Favourite” appeared on social sites in that time. But prior to releasing the film in the U.S. in December 2018, Fox Searchlight allocated 47% of its digital advertising spend to Facebook ads. Desktop display came in second at 41%; those ads appeared on a variety of entertainment sites, including Vulture.com and Backstage.com.
“Vice” Goes for the Comedy Crowd
During the Oscar voting period, Annapurna Pictures spent $244,000 on Facebook ads promoting “Vice,” it's dramedy about former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney. It also spent about $196,000 on desktop video, nearly 20% of which went to Funny or Die, a comedy video site.
As with several of the other films on this list, the “Vice” Oscar push paled in comparison to initial digital ad spend prior to its release. Annapurna put $1.2 million toward both desktop video and desktop display ads in the month before it hit theaters; sites that benefited included IMDb, Reddit, ESPN, and Funny or Die.
“Green Book” Spends Big in the Days Before Oscars
Universal Pictures has shelled out $1,154,500 to advertise “Green Book” on digital channels since Oscar voting kicked off. About 73% of that was allocated to desktop display. But most interestingly, about 63% of those display ads were purchased just a few days before the Oscars — and nearly all of them were placed on IMDb, an online film database.
The studio’s advertising approach was a bit more varied prior to the film’s release. “Green Book” digital ads were split almost evenly between social, desktop display, and desktop video in the month leading up to the film’s appearance in theaters. Digital ad spend for the month totaled $1,529,400.
And the Oscar Goes To...
It’s clear that none of the studios with films in the Best Picture race this year have the same idea about what makes a great digital ad campaign. But with Green Book taking home the award for Best Picture last night, one has to wonder….did Universal Pictures’ last minute display ads help win “Green Book” the Oscar? It’s too bad that’s not a question Pathmatics data can answer!
With over a decade of experience across digital marketing, content, creative, and PR, Sarah is a creative and dynamic thinker who loves to delight clients with unique and relatable content. Sarah graduated from UC Berkeley with a BA in Sociology.