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  • Posted by: Darcy Newell and Jennifer Vano on Thursday, February 27 2014 05:20 PM | Comments (0)

    Last year, we wrote a series of blogs about award show hosts, evaluating how their personal brands interplay with the brand of the ceremonies themselves. We took a look at Tina Fey and Amy Poehler as the hosts of the Golden Globes and dark horse Seth MacFarlane, the raunchy mastermind behind Ted and Family Guy who hosted last year’s Academy Awards.

    This year, the Golden Globes invited Poehler and Fey back to the stage, and the duo again delivered—playing up the relaxed, irreverent and self-depreciating attitude that their brands, and the show, have in common. One of our favorite lines of the night, in reference to their second time hosting, captures that spirit: “Because this is Hollywood, where if something kind of works, they'll just keep doing it till everyone hates it!" But while MacFarlane had some funny moments during his Oscar-hosting stint, most agreed that his rough-around-the-edges brand wasn’t a great match for the sophisticated Oscars.

    So how was the Academy to respond? After all, this wasn’t the first time they had chosen a host misaligned with their well-established brand in an attempt to appeal to a younger demographic (ahem, Franco and Hathaway in 2011).

    This year, the Academy has taken a turn, inviting comedian and television darling Ellen DeGeneres to host the show for the second time (she hosted in 2007). In fact, in 2007, DeGeneres was the first openly gay person to host the show, signaling a critical moment for the entertainment business and for the Academy Awards themselves. She addressed this status, staying true to her personal brand—always immensely kind, unapologetically real, and a little bit silly—saying: “What a wonderful night, such diversity in the room… and I want to put this out there: if there weren’t blacks, Jews and gays, there would be no Oscars—or anyone named Oscar, when you think about it.” She received widely positive reviews, and was even nominated for an Emmy for the performance.

    So sure, she’s a smart choice. But will she embody the sophistication the Academy Awards is known for, or the star power that draws in that pesky Millennial demographic? After all, she’s not a twenty-something actress or the star of the biggest movie of the year, nor is she likely to don 20 couture gowns during the show.

    But since 2007, DeGeneres’ popularity and presence has only increased. Her daytime talk show continues to get heaps of accolades, and she’s expanded her personal brand with new projects, like launching the infectiously fun app, “Heads Up,” appearing in a commercial for Beats Audio, and starting her own record label, eleveneleven, which focuses on finding artists on YouTube.

    And DeGeneres, as a brand and as a person, stands for a lot of things that a lot of Millenials believe in. Gay marriage, human rights, animal rights and letting loose, like dancing at the drop of a hat and wearing sneakers with a suit. If DeGeneres had an overarching message, it might be the line she closes every episode of her talk show with: “Be kind to each other.” And like the best brands, she brings this idea to life thoughtfully, consistently and dynamically no matter where she is or whom she’s talking to.

    What’s more, DeGeneres has always adopted an up-close-personal approach to her stardom, way before the era of Instagram put all celebrities’ personal lives at our fingertips. Case in point: some of her biggest laughs in the 2007 Oscar broadcast came from hilarious interactions with celebrities, like having Steven Spielberg take a photo of she and Clint Eastwood, and then giving him feedback on how to get the perfect shot.

    So maybe she doesn’t stand for sophistication, but that might be okay, because it signals that the Academy is up on the trend, shifting from putting celebrities on pedestals to presenting them as peers. Instead of choosing a star having a “moment” for Millenials, they chose a host whose personal brand is fundamentally appealing, and who has always been on the same level as her viewers. Because as much as this generation might be intrigued by spotlight and scandal, we’d argue that they’re driven by something a bit closer to their ideals, values and ultimately, their hearts.

    Darcy Newell and Jennifer Vano are Senior Consultants, Verbal Identity, at Interbrand.

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  • Posted by: Darcy Newell and Jennifer Vano on Tuesday, February 26 2013 10:27 AM | Comments (0)
    Seth MacFarlane

    The best performances of the year were honored last night, but the most disputed act seems to be that of host Seth MacFarlane—was he a hit, a miss or something in between?

    In case you missed it: the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences (AMPAS) chose MacFarlane, creator of Family Guy and Ted, to be the host of the 85th annual Academy Awards in a rather obvious effort to rebrand the show as relevant to younger audiences. In our previous post, we wrote that MacFarlane faced a three-pronged challenge: to channel the old school sophistication for which the show is known, advance the AMPAS’ new brand vision, and to maintain his own personal brand in the process.

    Since our last writing, the AMPAS made another change, though it was so subtle many viewers may have missed it. For the first time in history, the AMPAS branded the show “The Oscars,” its informal nickname, rather than its official moniker, “The Academy Awards.” Other additions, like a show theme (music in film) and pre-taped comedy segments, prove the Academy has been thinking of ways to spice things up while leveraging the lesser-known talents of its host.

    Dance Number

    The AMPAS acknowledged from the start of the show that the comedian was an unconventional choice whose performance could go either way: as part of MacFarlane’s opening monologue, Captain Kirk beamed in “from the future,” chastising him for his ensuing flubs and showing reviews from the next day declaring him the “worst host in history.” A clever tactic, as it afforded MacFarlane the opportunity to push the envelope and then redeem himself, reverting back to old school showmanship, complete with Broadway-style singing and dancing.

    It’s a compelling combination of dashing and devilish, one that had the potential to evolve the Oscars brand. Yet, MacFarlane’s performance, and the strategy driving it, was puzzlingly scattered, making us laugh as often as we cringed. Not surprisingly, real reviews—not from Captain Kirk—were mixed. Here’s our take.

    The good:

    MacFarlaneMacFarlane crooned the classics and tap-danced with ease. He seemed fully invested and genuinely enthusiastic in even the most over-the-top sketches, like his visit from Kirk or his homage to The Sound of Music—attributes that are on-brand for the Oscars as we’ve known it.

    His commentary around cut jokes appearing on the teleprompter and follow-ups when jokes fell flat made for a fast-paced, anything-can-happen vibe that brought the show into fresher territory. For example, the line about Django Unchained’s R-rated language being based on Mel Gibson’s voicemails was booed by the audience, but the follow up, “Oh, so you’re on his side?” saved the moment. Of course, he had some universally funny moments, like making Tommy Lee Jones laugh within the first two minutes of the show and delivering good-hearted jokes about Ben Affleck’s nomination snub.

    The bad:

    Some blasted MacFarlane’s joke about John Wilkes Booth and his reenactment of The Sound of Music scene as tasteless; others found them to be funny, or at least fair play. Still, some jokes seem to be universally off-putting, like Ted the bear’s bit about being Jewish in Hollywood, MacFarlane’s badly timed joke about women losing weight for the ceremony and a lazy lob about mistaking Denzel Washington for Eddie Murphy.

    Ted the BearEven if your tolerance for boundary-pushing humor is sizable, we think MacFarlane failed to pick his moments of shock and dismay, and balance them with more good-natured humor, like Poehler and Fey did at the Golden Globes. Overall, this lack of balance undermined the Oscars’ legacy of class and glamour.

    Let’s not forget that MacFarlane isn’t the only guy writing his jokes—both the good and the bad—nor is he responsible for some of the broadcast’s more awkward moments, like when the orchestra started playing the Jaws theme song to cut a heartfelt acceptance speech short or a sock puppet reenactment of the movie Flight. There’s a team of people—hired by the AMPAS—producing every word, action and musical cue of the night.

    It seems to us that the Academy made a common branding mistake: a strategy seems firm on paper, but execution wanders hopelessly “off brief,” perhaps because of a weak premise, bad planning or inadequate foresight. The Academy set out to be funny and provocative, but without defining what kind of funny, how provocative, and in what way, we’re left feeling like we saw a movie before it hit the editing room.

    Evolving the brand is great, but the Academy must not leave the Oscars’ identity behind. At its core it’s a production: a velvet-curtained, perfectly orchestrated show that we only get to experience once a year—not a skit, and certainly not a rehearsal.

    Let’s call this year a rough cut of the AMPAS’ new, and not entirely flawed, strategy and hope next year we get to see the final.

    Darcy Newell and Jennifer Vano are Consultants in Verbal Identity for Interbrand New York.

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  • Posted by: Darcy Newell and Jennifer Vano on Tuesday, January 15 2013 02:30 PM | Comments (0)

    It's two days after the Golden Globe Awards. While the world debates the fashion, Argo's surprise wins and Jodie Foster's speech, we're thinking about what's happening with the brand.

    In our first post, we analyzed the impact of the Golden Globe Awards' and the Academy Awards' hosts on the brands. It's important to note that both are pursuing new directions this year. The Hollywood Press Association (HFPA) swapped Ricky Gervais for Tina Fey and Amy Poehler at the Golden Globes. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) chose Family Guy creator Seth McFarlane for this February's Academy Awards in lieu of a more traditional host, such as last year's Billy Crystal.

    Kudos HFPA. You chose well. According to Nielson Media Research, 19.6 million viewers tuned into Sunday's show, giving 2013 the highest ratings since 2007, a 17% increase from last year and a 28% improvement in the coveted 18 - 49 demographic.

    As we predicted, Poehler and Fey nailed it, staying true to their personal brands while upholding that of the Golden Globes. The duo was at ease, playing off each other in a way that only SNL vets and real friends could. Keeping up with the Golden Globes' tradition of shocking audiences, they took digs at celebrities, but balanced insults with self-deprecation, goofy disguises and good natured jokes, such as the Meryl Streep flu bit ("Meryl Streep is not here tonight, she has the flu. And I hear she's amazing in it.") and calling the former president "Bill Rodham Clinton." They kept us laughing rather than cringing, living up to Fey's opening promise of wanting "to have a good time," but not "send anyone home in tears," leaving us feeling like we spent the night with old -- albeit hilarious -- friends, rather than a searing stand-up comic. (Ahem, Gervais.)

    Viewers stormed social media to praise Fey and Poehler. At the time of this writing, they were mentioned more than 125,000 times on Twitter alone. Overwhelmingly positive, tweets have centered on three themes: viewers sharing their favorite moments, viewers requesting the duo host future Golden Globes and other award shows (including the Oscars) and, most importantly, that viewers tuned in solely because of Fey and Poehler.

    Golden Globes 2013

    So it seems that audiences are clear about what they want and expect from the brand: both a light-hearted celebration of accomplishments in television and film and a glimpse at celebrities as real people who appreciate a good joke.

    But we sense the HFPA is struggling to own this identity, as it sometimes went too far trying to be funny -- such as during the speech from its president Dr. Aida Takla O'Reilly, which was punctuated with mediocre jokes and dated pop culture references. If there was a moment for the show to be serious, this was it, as too much silliness, especially when it falls flat, can undermine the HFPA's credibility.

    Other times the show went too far in the other direction, aspiring to be like its more sophisticated counterpart. Take the show's opening line, which welcomed us to "the most glamourous night in television." Most exciting? Sure. Most unpredictable? Definitely. But most glamourous? That's an accolade better reserved for the Academy Awards.

    So whether Fey and Poehler return to the stage next year or not, it's critical that the HFPA finds the right balance between snarkiness and positivity, surprise and polish, from host to content writing to production. If they do this, they'll be closer to securing a niche for their brand that meets audiences' expectations and delivers an experience we can't find anywhere else.

    Agree with our assessment of Sunday night's show? Leave comments below or come talk to us in Intebrand's Facebook community. Make sure to check back in February for a look at Seth McFarlane's Academy Awards debut.

    Darcy Newell and Jennifer Vano are Consultants in Verbal Identity for Interbrand New York.

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  • Posted by: Darcy Newell and Jennifer Vano on Friday, January 11 2013 05:39 PM | Comments (0)

    Oscars and Golden Globes

    Make your predictions and grab some popcorn: it’s award show season. Our favorite rivals —the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA)’s Golden Globe Awards and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS)’s Academy Awards — will go head to head.

    It’s their one big chance to make us love them all over again. We can hardly wait.

    The most powerful weapon for each is the host, who must balance his or her personal brand with that of the event. It’s always a risk. Cameras start rolling and the host has almost full control of not only the experience of the audience, but also the perception of the brand. Now that’s pressure.

    Choosing wrong equals disaster. Take the 2011 Academy Awards. In a too-obvious attempt to appeal to a younger demographic, the AMPAS chose James Franco and Anne Hathaway to co-host. Franco’s couldn’t-care-less attitude made for a live-TV catastrophe. It was a failure that threatened to tarnish the image the brand had built over its 84 years: classic Hollywood glamour and dramatic flair.

    The brand tried to move forward, but did it go too far? We got our answer in 2012, when the AMPAS passed the mic to seasoned host Billy Crystal once again.

    Then there’s the younger Golden Globe Awards, which is in its 70th year. The HFPA chose Ricky Gervais as the show’s first regular host in years in 2010, though the show has been surprising audiences with wacky antics forever.

    Gervais continued the tradition of keeping audiences guessing, but also left them gasping in response to his signature, take-no-prisoners comedy routine. At the podium for three years, Gervais helped to position the event as hipper and sharper-tongued than its sophisticated counterpart.

    But this year, both events are taking a different route. Are they rebranding, vying for higher viewership, or simply trying something new?

    The way we see it, they’re attempting to achieve a balance between legacy and modernity — meeting expectations while increasing appeal. Will it work?

    For the Academy Awards, stepping away from their classic hosting style just two years after the 2011 debacle is a gamble. For the Golden Globe Awards, disrupting the experience — albeit an uncomfortable one at times — for which the brand is known might cause us to question what it really stands for.

    That said, we’re willing to bet money on Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, who will host the Golden Globe Awards on January 13th. With years of live comedy experience and a real-life friendship, the ladies seem like a natural choice, particularly for NBC, the network that broadcasts not only the Golden Globe Awards, but both actresses’ sitcoms. With serious comedic chops, but a less biting delivery than Gervais’s, the duo is set up to create an entertaining and inclusive experience, a departure from what we’ve come to expect of the show over last three years.

    On February 24th, Seth McFarlane will host the Academy Awards — a second play for that younger audience, and a seemingly off-brand choice at that. After all, you probably don’t associate “Family Guy” with old Hollywood. Yet, we think it might actually be a brilliant evolution of brand.

    Seth McFarlaneAs a Grammy-nominated musician, he’s proven his live TV abilities—like his hilarious bit on SNL featuring the voices of three “Family Guy” characters, as well as his charm-under-pressure during the 2012 Emmys, when he spoke into a dead mic, but kept it together. His song, “Everyone Needs A Best Friend” from the “Ted” soundtrack was even nominated for Best Song, so get ready for a joke about that in his opening monologue. If McFarlane can keep it classy — while cracking us up —he’ll uphold the show’s legacy while helping a broader audience relate to the brand.

    All in all, we think both brands have made savvy choices. Only time will tell what will happen when the lights go down. We’re talking live TV after all, and it’s up to the host to deliver. Stay tuned for our follow up articles on both shows: how the hosts did, how viewers responded, and where the brands could go next.

    Darcy Newell and Jennifer Vano are Consultants in Verbal Identity for Interbrand New York.

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