Marketing the Best Picture Nominees of 2016

Eden Ames
American Marketing Association
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Key Takeaways

What? Before movies make it to the Oscars, they need to be marketed right.

So what? Marketers of any industry can learn a few lessons about attracting audience and consumer interest by reviewing marketing techniques used for 2016's Best Picture nominees.

Now what? Model your next marketing campaign after the success of 2016's Best Picture nominees by implementing word-of-mouth, traditional and untraditional strategies to appeal to broader audiences.

Which Best Picture nominee of 2016 deserves the Oscar for best marketing?

Before films make it to the Oscars, they need to get to the right venues and be seen by the right people. High entertainment value is only half the battle-- movies need to be well marketed and few places are more competitive than Hollywood.

Awards season is like a free lesson in marketing and we can learn a lot about what it takes to market a movie—and perhaps more—by observing the campaigns of the 2016 best picture nominees:


The adaptation of Emma Donoghue’s novel of the same title was only greenlit after director Lenny Abrahamson wrote a persuasive letter to the author requesting film rights for the book. With a budget of only $6 million, this independent project was faced with not only limited resources, but also a challenging synopsis when it came to gaining audience interest.

According to The Globe and Mail, Elevation Pictures worked with U.S. distribution partner, A24 Films to develop a series of trailers to expand on the poignant captivity story. To the dismay of some, these trailers included the revelation of major plot points.

“That’s the perverse thing about publicity; we’d all prefer the audience going in knowing nothing at all. But in order to hook them, you have to tell them something,” 

                                                        -Emma Donoghue in Variety

Blackburn News reported that Elevation also significantly counted on the word-of-mouth that spread from respected reviewers and accolades like the TIFF People’s Choice Award. Additionally, Donoghue’s blog “Emma’s Corner” drew additional interest by keeping record of the production process.

Further, the "very personal" letter addressed to Donoghue from director Abrahamson, which was shared in full by IndieWire, benefited the film by increasing audience awareness.

Bridge of Spies

With big names like Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks attached, Bridge of Spies didn’t need to try as hard as independent films for exposure. The Cold War period piece released only one poster along with a series of standard TV spots and trailers. Additional press releases and Q&As with stars topped off this film's conventional marketing campaign. 

The Martian

This sci-fi film adaptation built up its audience by deviating from the normative trailer release. Instead, director Ridley Scott tasked content marketing agency, 3AM, with the development of three short videos separate from the film and positioned them to go viral. The videos did what they were intended to do, garnering over a million views on YouTube for the first two installments and nearly 800,000 for the last. 

The first of Scott's three part viral video series.

When asked about his move to advertise untraditionally, Ridley Scott told Adweek, “I've frequently found that if you start too soon with trailer materials, you run out of things to say.”

Britta Gampper of Fox’s EVP International Strategic Marketing also told Deadline that the science behind the film made it especially effective in attracting audiences. 

“The science aspect of this movie, without it being educational, made science cool again… we tried to capture some of that [in the campaign] without feeling like we were lecturing.”

           -Britta Gampper in Deadline

A photo posted by 原美来 (@hapirai) on

Gampper also commented on the simplicity of the poster, noting that the positioning of the text “Bring Him Home” in large letters over a close-up of Matt Damon captured the emotional aspect of the film.

Mad Max: Fury Road

According to Variety, an estimated $9.2 million went into the advertising budget for this re-energized installment in the classic Mad Max universe. Apart from the built-in excitement that often accompanies a franchised title, Mad Max's thrilling trailers successfully amped up audience anticipation with many agreeing that they were some of the best trailers of the year. Further, additional appeal came from the fact that most of the film's impressive stunts were done in-camera. 


This film, which chronicles the true story of four reporters who exposed sex abuse in the Catholic church, secured big name actors like Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton and Rachel McAdams to boost audience interest. Also, it can’t be ignored that films based on real-life scandals attract the curiosity of the public inherently. 

Apart from the standard posters, trailers, website and social media posts, Spotlight picked up additional exposure when three of the four reporters on which the film was based on wrote essays about being portrayed by a major Hollywood actor for the Globe. 

The Revenant

The survival epic, The Revenant, relied heavily on the stories that emerged from its now infamous production as fodder for its marketing campaign. Few viewers are unfamiliar with the grueling making-of story that had Leonardo DiCaprio biting into raw bison meat. 

In many ways, The Revenant found its fame through notoriety. Director Alejandro Iñárritu’s ambition to use only natural light was the key reason behind the project finishing behind schedule and with expenses far above the original $95 million budget. In fact, the project was so behind that it forced the production to relocate to the other side of the equator in order to maintain its wintry setting.

“The marketing campaign, including every interview on the press tour, took pains to illustrate just how difficult it was to make the film, how brutal and unforgiving the conditions were, how relentlessly hard it was on cast and crew alike. Shooting in subzero temperatures; using only natural light (thereby limited some days of shooting to only a few hours); the famously vegan DiCaprio eating raw bison liver; DiCaprio sleeping in an actual animal carcass; DiCaprio almost getting hypothermia and frostbite; DiCaprio being physically wrecked in any way”


A photo posted by @revenantmovie on

Apart from the horror stories of set, The Revenant also marketed itself with a virtual reality experience, giving participants a glimpse of Hugh Glass’s journey in first person perspective.

The Big Short

Instead of expanding to more theaters after its Oscar nominations, Paramount Pictures contradicted the typical practice of taking Oscar nominees to even more theaters and scaled back.

“Pulling back on the number of theaters has made The Big Short an even hotter commodity, with demand outweighing the supply, and that truly is a lesson gleaned from Finance 101,” Rentrak senior media analyst Paul Dergabedian told TheWrap.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have the star power of Christian Bale, Brad Pitt, Steve Carell and Ryan Gosling to generate some buzz.


This book adaptation, like many independent films, counted on festival performance for its publicity. After going to Sundance in 2015, the critical acclaim that it garnered there translated to the equivalent of word-of-mouth marketing. Interviews with the stars and a few TV spots also helped with publicity.

Related Content

Which best picture nominee of 2016 do you think deserves the Oscar for best marketing? Tell us what you think in our poll below! (Use the scroll bar on the left side of the poll to view all options.

Author Bio:

Eden Ames
Eden Ames is a digital content producer for the American Marketing Association. She may be reached at
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