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.