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Is This Thing On? Hosts Help Award Shows Evolve Their Brand

Posted by: Darcy Newell and Jennifer Vano on January 11, 2013

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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