No, Your Awards-Nominated Film Is Not the “Winner” of a Nomination

By  · Published on January 2nd, 2014

What is the difference between being nominated for an award and winning an award? The answer is so obvious as to be ludicrous – being nominated for something means that there is a possibility you will win the final accolade, winning something means that you’ve actually won the prize. Simple, right? Clear, not obtuse in the least, plain-faced, correct? Not if you’re dealing with awards season movie marketing, as a number of films are now touting their nominations by billing films as being the “WINNER (of a nomination).” Pardon?

It’s a strange phenomenon that /Film’s Germain Lussier wrote about back in December (as inspired by a piece on Franklin Avenue, which meticulously gathered screencaps in support), as he was appropriately flabbergasted by the marketing ruse. Lussier penned a piece on the rash of new ads – specifically for August: Osage County and Philomena — sharing screencaps of various TV spots that touted both films as the “WINNER” of various Golden Globe nominations (up top, you’ll find one for August: Osage County). The ads willfully blew up the word “WINNER” to outshine the more accurate “nominee” or “nomination,” clearly aiming to make an impression of the winning variety (not, it seems, of the nominating variety). At the time of Lussier’s piece, only The Weinstein Company (the distributor of both August and Philomena) had utilized the shady technique to tout their films, but now even Fox Searchlight has gotten in on it, and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association is not happy in the slightest.

Since Lussier’s piece ran, another film has joined the “WINNER” fray, Steve McQueen’s wonderful 12 Years a Slave, an already-lauded feature that doesn’t need tricks and treats to earn awards season respect (and, yes, a move like this might actually diminish respect for the production itself, as unfair as that may be to the team behind the film). Both August and Philomena have screened repeatedly over the past few months and surely have plenty of actual accolades to pull from, including both reviews and real results from a number of other awards and critical tallies (in fact, two different ads for August include quotes from my own TIFF review of the film that I stand by – you try arguing with the fact that this film has a “tremendous cast”). And yet both Fox Searchlight and The Weinstein Company have angled in on using manipulative and misleading language to sell their films, a new style of marketing that will (hopefully) be all but outlawed soon.

The Wrap reports that Theo Kingma, the president of Hollywood Foreign Press Association (the voting body that puts on the annual awards), has circulated “an email to awards campaigners asking them to refrain from identifying Golden Globe nominees as ‘winners’ in their advertising.” Kingma is, unsurprisingly, not too excited about the use of the word “WINNER” within a number of recent ads, probably because it’s not only manipulative to audiences, but because it might trick people into thinking that Golden Globes have already happened (thus leading to them not watching the show).

Kingma shared some of the details with the outlet, telling The Wrap that the email was sent out on Tuesday afternoon (Happy New Year?) to “a select group of publicists we work with throughout the year.” While Kingma reportedly did not single out specific films or distributors, it is fairly obvious that the email was in response to both the Weinstein and Searchlight ads.

Kingma is holding firm on his disdain for the ads, saying, “While earning a nomination is certainly an honor and one to be celebrated, it is not a ‘win’ and using that term or terms similar to it is likely to mislead the public and diminish the excitement around the awards show, when the winners will be revealed.”

Interestingly, Steve Pond at The Wrap notes that “the Academy specifically prohibits that kind of wording in Oscar ads, but the Globes do not have as rigorous a set of campaign guidelines.” Is that policy going to change soon? Maybe – but at least Kingma’s tactic may have worked in some small way, as The Wrap also reports that “an HFPA spokesperson told The Wrap that Kingma has spoken to Harvey Weinstein, and the Weinstein Co. confirmed that all of their offending ads will be pulled this week.”

Movie marketing is, to put it delicately, a strange business. Critic pull quotes that pepper ads are often very misleading, even when they are lifted from actual reviews (because, yes, oftentimes a quote is attributed to a critic who never actually wrote such words in a complete review, even if they have approved such praise for public dissemination), as I’ve lately been reminded of thanks to a series of ads for Saving Mr. Banks that show me declaring the film “a masterpiece!” In reality, the marketing team at Disney pulled out the words “a masterpiece” from a sentence I did write in a review for that went on to detail why the film is not actually a masterpiece. Here, take a look over at the super-fun Tumblr.

That’s something else, right? But it happens, and it happens a lot, so this next level of misleading marketing doesn’t really surprise, even as it’s damn easy to poke some big, Swiss cheese-sized holes in, simply because, no, a nomination isn’t the same as a win. (Oh, and also, how can you even pretend to win an award that hasn’t even been given out yet?) Awards season, you’re crazy like a fox.