What the Commercials aired during the Oscars say about Tech Brands
Like I do every year when the Super Bowl is on I watched the Oscars with an eye out for any exciting new ads from tech brands. This year was the 90th edition of the Academy Awards, and it took place in the midst of #MeToo and the Time’s Up movement. Some spoke out before the event about being tired of all the politics and the controversy calling for the ceremony to just be about movies. Needless to say, some brands might have preferred to take a pass when it came to running an ad during the broadcast of the show on ABC.
Preliminary Nielsen’s numbers show that the TV audience dropped 16% compared to 2017. This preliminary drop would suggest an overall viewership below 32 million which was the previous lowest point recorded in 2008. Nevertheless, the Oscars are expected to be the most watched non-sporting event on American TV.
As the ads rolled, I thought it was very interesting to so clearly see how they matched the most significant focus of the brands they were representing, mostly transcending one single product to highlight underlying enablers.
This was not the first Academy Awards presence for Samsung. Aside from being the main sponsor they also ran a new ad featuring the Galaxy S9 as part of the “Do what you can’t” campaign. In the product placements during the red carpet, Samsung chose to highlight the slow-motion video feature of the S9 camera.
The commercial is full of celebrities and influencers and shows the clear target audience Samsung is trying to attract with its new smartphone: Gen-Z. Without being political, the “Make It Yours” commercial is helping highlight the work of women who are first for being nominated in their field. Dee Rees, who directed and wrote the adapted screenplay for “Mudbound,” is the first black woman to be nominated for best-adapted screenplay and she directed the commercial. Rachel Morrison is the first woman ever to receive a nomination in cinematography and she was the cinematography for the campaign. Both women are also openly gay which is quite a forward pick for Samsung, a conservative brand thus far.
This is certainly a departure for Samsung from the traditional tech-focused or competition focused ads, and I have to say I like it a lot. The feeling you get is quite similar to the recent “what’s a computer” iPad ad, but it touches on more personal issues like having regrets, making mistakes and being passed over while also focusing on overcoming obstacles.
I always thought Samsung as a brand lacked a clear identity and I hope this ad is a first step in finding a different voice for a company that plays a significant role in the life of millions of people across the world. Especially for millennials and older Gen Z knowing what a brand stands for, their values, their social responsibility is important and can make or break a brand.
Google aired a star-ridden ad around its digital assistant capability with the words “Make Google Do it” appearing any time the person in the commercial was trying to do something from ordering some dope tape” to turning your lights on in the dark, remembering the alarm code or making an action list.
The commercial is cute, but I thought the choice of words was very telling. First, the assistant is not mentioned until the very end when on a white screen you see: “Get the Google Assistant and make Google do it.”
It is all about Google and the relationship you, as a user, have with Google. The ad could have said “Let Google do it,” but that would have implied some form of permission you as a user grant Google. Saying “make” implies a position of control for the user over Google. You are not letting Google do something that you could do; you make it do something like you would a subordinate person to you. I think that is very clever. It aims at shifting the perception that you are working for Google that many have when it comes to thinking that Google wants to know more and more about consumers to better monetize them.
Interestingly, the commercial also cements the different approach Google is taking to the digital assistant by not personifying it. The assistant is a mean to get to Google a clear separation of voice and brains.
Microsoft is a Super Bowl sponsor through its Surface and Xbox business and the company has run ads during the TV broadcast of the game. I do not seem to find any evidence that Microsoft has run an ad during the Oscars before this year.
Featuring Common, the ad is an ode to technology and Artificial Intelligence and what they empower. Empowerment is a common thread in Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella’s presentations. He firmly believes that technology should enable humanity to do more, be better, fulfill its potential.
AI and Mixed Reality are two key areas for Microsoft in business. After missing mobile it was clear they did not want to miss out on any technology that will empower the next generation, and they moved in early with HoloLens. Their business-first approach, however, is limiting their exposure to consumers. This is particularly true about AI that, right or wrong, is often equated to digital assistant. Here, Microsoft’s Cortana is trailing in adoption compared to Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri. The ad is raising awareness among a wide range of people that Microsoft is not only about Windows and PCs. The commercial alone, though, will not help consumers think there is a role for Microsoft AI in their life anymore so than they think there is one for IBM Watson. That is totally fine, of course, if Microsoft is not interested in the consumer market. But AI will touch every aspect of their portfolio including Windows which might be perceived as lagging compared to other platforms if consumers just do not know how it is made better by AI.
This was Twitter first-ever TV commercial. The ad featured a poem written and performed by Denice Frohman, a New York City-born poet, over black and white static pictures of prominent media and marketing executives as well as filmmakers Ava DuVernay and Julie Dash, documentarian Jennifer Brea and “Insecure” director and actress Issa Rae. The commercial ended with the hashtag #HereWeAre, which first appeared in December when Twitter chief marketing officer Leslie Berland announced that a group of female leaders would appear during Twitter’s event at the CES technology show.
Twitter has been under fire for a long time about doing more to monitor and police those users who are engaging in hate speech and sexual harassment. So it is no surprise that the response to the commercial was mixed. Some praised the poem for being powerful and appreciated the effort. Some gave the benefit of the doubt but saying they now want to see Twitter put their money where their mouth is and do more on the platform. Others just outright criticized the choice of investment pointing to the fact that the money spent on the commercial would have been better served on improving the platform itself either by hiring more engineers or considering new AI driven tech to help with the monitoring.
I was in the in-between group. I hope that the effort is more than a beautiful ad and I am sure Jack is very well aware that after that commercial the stakes are now even higher. There is no question in my mind that abuse can kill engagement.
There were more ads during the Academy Awards from T-Mobile, Walmart, GE, and Nest, but the ones I picked for this article are the ones that I thought best represented where the brand is in its business and brand identity. You can find them all here.