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2011 Oscars: What Went Wrong?

Kellyn Wieland

If there's one lesson to be gleaned from last night's big show, it's that there is such a thing as trying too hard. As marketers and public relations professionals, we often see this phenomenon play out when campaigns that make too much of an effort to be funny and self-aware fall flat. Unfortunately, this year's ceremony fell victim to this very peril. In an attempt to rope in the 18 to 49 year-old demographic prized by advertisers, the Oscars attempted to give the show a contemporary feel by entrusting James Franco, 32, and Anne Hathaway, 28, with hosting film's biggest night of the year. Though there were some bright moments, including a few particularly poignant acceptance speeches, the general consensus was that the night was a flop (some even took to Twitter to declare this the #worstoscarsever). So what went wrong?

There was no audience engagement.

The idea that messages don't get through unless they connect with an audience on a visceral level is one that communications professionals know well. By trying to accentuate the "hipness" of its hosts, the broadcast only created a more pronounced divide between the film generations. As James Franco reminded us to use the internet to look up "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon," David Seidler, the winner for "Best Original Screenplay" for the King's Speech, noted that at 73, he was the oldest person to have garnered the award. An auto-tuned musical segment stood in stark contrast to the earlier arrival of presenter Kirk Douglas, 94. On top of polarizing generations, the shtick seemed disingenuous. Hathaway and Franco wasted no time in reminding the audience that they were representing the young and hip version of the Oscars, but a sense of coolness was notably lacking from the evening’s ceremony. Franco didn’t even seem entirely awake for most of the telecast. This discrepancy between words and action brings us to another rule of storytelling and engagement: show, don't tell.

Writing still trumps all.

As a public relations student, I've been told time and time again that the ability to write (and write well) is imperative to success in this field. But that fact isn't just applicable to this industry -- knowing how to finesse words to communicate key messages is necessary for almost any career. Maybe the writers of this year's Oscars broadcast didn't quite get the memo. Hathaway and Franco's script was dead in the water. Memorable moments were few and far between. The tone of the program was often times flippant. Speeches about movie history quickly lost both the audience's interest and attention. Hathaway and Franco’s best moments came in the form of quippy ad-libs, not the jokes that had been prepared for them. Next year, the writers of the Oscars need to reconnect with human interest and find the balance of glamour and common touch that this year's telecast seemed to lack.

What do you think? Do these principles of communications ring true as reasons why the Oscars didn’t work? Or are people overreacting to this year’s broadcast?