What can the Oscars teach us about making winning content?

Ah, the Oscars. It’s all about Hollywood egos, fancy frocks, gushing winners, and the running jokes at Leonardo DiCaprio’s expense. Poor Leo. It may seem far removed from your daily slog on the content coalface but there are lessons that can be learned from them.

One obvious tip from this year’s Oscar-nominated films is to avoid angry bears in frozen wastelands. Kudos to The Revenant for that pearl of wisdom. That’s probably not going to help you in your content marketing efforts but it’s not the only insight that can be drawn from this year’s films. So what can the Oscars teach us about making winning content?

Well, your content may have less Tom Hanks but that doesn’t mean that you can’t apply some of the same basic concepts in your content creation.

Great content can reposition your brand

The previous Mad Max film had Tina Turner in a chainmail dress. The most recent one is a critically-acclaimed hit that’s up for 10 Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director. Now that’s what you call a good rebrand.

The Mad Max franchise started out as an Australian B-movie before spawning a couple of blockbuster sequels in the 80s. Its dubious claim to fame was launching Mel Gibson’s Hollywood career. We’ll let you decide whether that was a good or a bad thing.

Oscar content Mel Gibson

2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road redefined the franchise and created a whole new genre dubbed “non-stop, post-Apocalyptic, feminist, action-thriller car chase.” (Disclaimer: that’s actually just a collection of random words that we cobbled together from reviews).

The point is that good content can win people over, even if they aren’t familiar with your product or brand. Maybe you want to avoid being seen as a one-trick pony or to revamp your brand’s image? The likes of Xerox and Old Spice are obvious examples of companies that used content to reinvent their image and change people’s impression of their brands in recent years.

If you have any doubt about content’s ability to reposition your brand, consider Paddy Power’s transition from common or garden bookmakers into a hype-generating mischief channel in recent years. That’s a pretty big makeover but it’s definitely worked for them.

However, rebranding is not without its potential pitfalls. Mad Max: Fury Road had enough nods to the original franchise to appease fans but it also introduced a new film that had plenty of merit in its own right.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, perhaps the most famous rebranding disaster was the New Coke debacle in 1985, which famously saw Coca-Cola take everything everyone loved about the brand and ditch it. That went about as well as can be expected… The return to the original recipe and name was swift and the exercise remains a valuable lesson in the importance of nurturing brand loyalty.

People like good stories

There’s a simple formula for Oscar success – find an interesting true story and draft in some heavyweight actors to act their socks off. If you want to boost your chances, tweak the details a little bit to make your adaptation even better. After all, sometimes real life just isn’t dramatic enough.

There’s a reason this works. People like a true story. Knowing that the film is based on real events adds a certain credibility to proceedings.

The same thing applies when you’re writing content for your brand. People are more likely to take an interest if you can establish yourself as a credible entity with a good story.

Think about your brand as your script. Getting the right people around you to craft your story will help to fulfil its potential.

Just don’t expect to convert it into a winning story if you’re asking the Transition Year student to do all your content. Unless, of course, the student in question happens to be some sort of a marketing prodigy…

Think about the way Failte Ireland has marketed the Wild Atlantic Way as an authentic tourism experience within a relatively short time. They turned 2,500km of the West coast of Ireland into a single branded entity. The Atlantic coast is literally as old as the hills but some simple investment and some clever marketing has seen it reinvented as a unique tourist destination.

This is basically the best example of Irish tourism up-cycling since some genius decided to sell Irish turf incense to ex-pats.

Brand storytelling can be a bit of a cliché but it can also be an effective marketing tactic. This video by Google is another example of a great piece of storytelling. It demonstrates what the brand does while detailing how it can influence its users’ lives. The fact that it pulls at the heart strings is definitely a bonus.

You need to plug your content

If you believe that Oscar wins are purely down to artistic merit, luck and hard work, you’ve obviously never heard of all the stuff that goes on behind the scenes. The truth is that studios crank out sophisticated campaigns to influence Academy voters and generate buzz around an actor or a film.

The same thing applies when it comes to sharing your content and attracting influencers. You might not be able to dispatch A-List actors to boost your cause but you can still get attention for your content.

Get it out there with social, outreach or even word of mouth but you should always be plugging your content. Set yourself an engagement goal when pushing any piece of content and try your best to hit that target.

Some brands are better than others at targeting influencers. Modcloth take a very proactive approach – they even name dresses after selected bloggers which is certainly effective. Flattery may get you everywhere but it’s also a pretty good way to get some exposure from an influencer.

Tinder may now be a ubiquitous dating app but it got the ball rolling by targeting influencers in college campuses. It held exclusive fraternity parties in heavily-populated areas, with attendees required to download the app. This established a desirable network of people in an area and helped the app to grow organically.

They then replicated that model on a larger scale by targeting celebs and famous people with verified accounts. Because nothing gets regular folk quite as excited as the prospect of a celebrity hook up.

Timing is also a crucial aspect in wooing Academy votes. It’s no surprise that most Oscar-bait gets released near the end of the year to maximise its chances. The lesson here is to carefully plan when you release content to ensure that it gets maximum exposure and momentum.

Connect with your audience

Room is an unlikely Oscar film in many ways. It’s a film about a mother and son who’ve been held in captivity for seven years and it doesn’t boast any megawatt stars. If you only heard the premise, it wouldn’t exactly sound like a fun-filled night at your local cinema.

Instead of focusing on the disturbing aspects of the story, the critically-acclaimed film works because it tackles universal themes like parenthood, childhood, hope and survival. In doing so, it collected four Oscar nominations including Best Picture, Best Directing, Best Actress and Best Screenplay. Not bad!

There’s a lesson here. It doesn’t matter what you’re selling or what your brand does as long as your content can find a way to really connect with your target audience. Knowing what your audience wants and needs is vital but delivering on that is the important part of the equation.

What do the Oscars teach us about making winning content?

American Express is an old hand at content marketing, having pioneered the use of travel guides almost 100 years ago. Their OPEN site and forum shows how you can capture an audience with your content and connect with your customer. The user-generated content on the forum is another bonus.

OPEN was launched in 2007 to help small business owners and it’s a great example of Marketing as a Service. The long term nature of something like OPEN requires a commitment-heavy approach and may be over-ambitious for many brands but it has created a ready-made community that Amex can tap into. It’s also helped develop a sector that’s very lucrative for the brand, so it’s a canny business move into the bargain.

The likes of The Happy Pear show the benefits of selling your brand as a lifestyle and creating an aspirational quality to it with your content. A healthy diet never looked like so much fun, with brothers David and Steven Flynn producing compelling content on social media, the website and even a book.

It’s a potent mix that has attracted a loyal following and helped to turn a veg shop into a brand with multiple eateries, a distribution business and a broader collection of outreach programmes. The moral of the story is that connecting with a dedicated audience is vital if you want to develop a brand’s potential.

Don’t underestimate the impact of using emotional content to connect with your audience. If your brand makes a meaningful connection with a piece of content, it increases the chances that people will share it with friends or family.

2016: What do the Oscars teach us about making winning content?

Big brands are all masters of pumping out emotional content – whether it’s Coke promoting brotherly love, the Always video about female self-worth or Nike recalling Rory McIlroy’s drive to emulate Tiger Woods.

Emotional content works and it can pack a serious punch if it’s well executed. Just ask Bruce Lee. He can’t get enough of that emotional content.

Want to win awards of your own with content?

Making great content is a challenge. Luckily, our award-winning content team is on hand to give you all the help and tips you need. Why not get in touch to find out what we can do for you?

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About Dermot Keys

Dermot is a Content Creator with 256. He has worked as a journalist and editor for a number of print and online publications. He once won a fancy dress competition dressed as One Man and his Dog, although the dog did most of the work.