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The Oscars are the Super Bowl for fashion — and brands are ready for their touchdown

Oscar participation for major brands can be well into the seven figures — but payoff on the high street could bring in way more.
Imaghe: Oscar Statuettes For The 76th Academy Awards Displayed In Hollywood
A display case is seen full of Oscar statues February 20, 2004 in Hollywood.Carlo Allegri / Getty Images file

From the high-end designers hustling to get their gowns on Hollywood stars at any price, to the fast fashion retailers readying to serve up spinoffs of the most beloved looks from Sunday's big event, everybody is angling to make the Academy Awards a win.

“For the fashion and beauty world, the Academy Awards are the Super Bowl,” Tom La Vecchia, founder of the digital marketing firm X Factor Media, told NBC News. "The big brands have been planning for this for months, and usually this is a big part of their spend. A brand, like say, Gucci, could spend well into the seven figures.”

Image::Image: Oscar statue|AP|2018 Invision
An Oscar statue appears in the ballroom during the 90th Academy Awards Nominees Luncheon on Feb. 5, 2018, in Beverly Hills, California.
An Oscar statue appears in the ballroom during the 90th Academy Awards Nominees Luncheon on Feb. 5, 2018, in Beverly Hills, California.Danny Moloshok / AP

While an upscale fashion brand could be splurging on a commercial spot during the show — which is still an incredibly powerful way to engage, said Allen Adamson, co-founder at Metaforce and the author of "Shift Ahead: How the Best Companies Stay Relevant in a Fast Changing World" — La Vecchia is more specifically referring to the cost of getting on the red carpet by way of an A-list celebrity, the ultimate celebrity endorsement for a designer — and one it can instantly and forever refer to as a kind of badge of honor, La Vecchia notes.

“A brand looking to [outfit] an A-list celebrity is eyeing an average of $1 million for the event,” he said. “Because they don’t want to just sponsor one celebrity, they want to sponsor several, and usually that includes not just the [attire], stylists, and everything else required, but compensation for the celebrities. The brand may also try to get into the swag bag, which is valued at around $100,000.”

Visit for a $10,000 dress, leave with a $200 blouse

Brands are counting on a pretty old-school but die-hard advertising tactic here: they’re putting their most expensive, exclusive products on parade (at the most expensive and exclusive cost) to maintain elite status, but also to move product to the masses. It’s a strategy that Adamson deems “less impactful at the top of the market,” but one that can make a big shake further down.

“There will be a few [high-end] dresses that sell after the Oscars, but the bigger opportunity is for the market that is accessible to more people,” said Adamson.

If a consumer sees a dynamite dress on Lupita Nyong’o and looks it up online to learn that it costs $20,000, she probably won’t buy that dress. But she may buy something else that bears the same swanky label.

“These brands know nobody will buy that dress because it’s so expensive, but they also know that someone may see that dress and then buy a different item from them for $200,” adds La Vecchia.

Cashing in on social media in real time

The high-end designers may rule the red carpet, but all fashion and beauty brands should be poised to benefit by monitoring the event like a hawk and being ready to pounce on social media. It may seem spontaneous as their campaigning happens in real-time, dropping trending hashtags — but the effort is intricately planned.

“Retailers should absolutely be prepared for moments [such as] a celebrity naming your brand or the brands that you sell,” said Janet Levine of Mindshare North America. “In advance of the show, if this seems likely, you should be thinking about your potential plan of action, from retweeting the celebrities in question, to figuring out if you can use that endorsement in more of your advertising, to optimizing your search marketing, to planning an interesting in-store activation.”

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Levine lends the following as an example. “Let’s say that you’re a retailer that sells designs from Rachel Zoe, and then a celebrity mentions that she’s wearing Rachel Zoe at the Academy Awards. You would have someone monitoring for those kinds of mentions in real-time, and then when it happened, you could work to put forward all the Rachel Zoe items on your website, put together curated looks, [and] amplify your search marketing around that designer.”

Brands will likely be implementing social listening tools to analyze large amounts of data as it streams in. Namely they’ll be looking “to unearth patterns, insights, or even the outliers of consumer conversation,” said Levine, adding that the most universal tools aggregate hashtags and keywords to find trending topics, popular news stories, and social commentary.

“The more that brands and retailers can understand all different cuts of data, the more relevant they can be for their consumers,” says Levine.

While retailers who’ve invested in the technology to dissect this data stand to make the most of it, indie brands and even beauty salons with no tools can jump on the bandwagon. They don’t even need to be selling a relevant product, per se; it could be as simple as joining the discussion about a particular color that is stealing glances on the red carpet.

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“Studies have shown that above form and shape people notice color first,” says Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute. “We don't have a crystal ball, but we can expect to see a conversation around color. Designers and stylists are zooming in on it. We saw it significantly at the Golden Globes. Black was important not just because of the symbolic message it carried [for the #MeToo movement], but because it is the color of empowerment; it’s actually all the colors combined.”

Timing matters for department stores and beauty brands

Make-up brands (and the drugstores that carry them) also have a shiny opportunity here — though according to Viant, a Meredith Corporation advertising technology company that analyzed the profiles of over 600,000 people who watch the Grammys, the Olympics, and the Oscars — the best timing of their opportunity varies from brand to brand.

“L’Oreal and Maybelline brand cosmetics could launch social campaigns on Instagram timed strategically with the red carpet as people who watched red carpet coverage in 2017 are 14 percent more likely to buy L’Oreal brand cosmetics and 8 percent more likely to buy Maybelline brand cosmetics than other Oscars viewers,” said Jon Schulz, CMO at Viant.

“On the other hand, Wet n’ Wild brands cosmetics may want to deliver their messages during the Oscars primetime as these Oscars viewers are 14 percent more likely to buy their products than those who watch red carpet coverage.”

Department stores can also form insights on when to make a move during the roughly four-hour event (including the red carpet).

“In 2017, people who watched at least 30 minutes of red carpet coverage were 15 percent more likely to shop at Macy’s than other Oscars viewers, and 13 percent more likely to shop at Nordstrom than other Oscars viewers,” added Schulz. “Knowing specifically that the red carpet garners interest amongst your consumers, these retailers can develop campaigns that incorporate the celebrities, styles, and trends that are prominent on the red carpet and air these advertisements not only during the prime time, but even earlier to excite consumers about the event and their brand.”

A feast for fast fashion

In the days immediately following the Academy Awards, the pressure is on retailers to bring the trends that stole the show to their shoppers. This is a game that fast fashion retailers are positioned to win.

“Fast fashion brands will respond very quickly and will be producing either ‘replicas’ or ‘inspired by’ looks from the Oscars and have them available quite quickly for purchase,” said Sally Cotching, strategy director at Three Fold Agency. “I think Dior's black sheer polka-dot look will be worn by at least one red carpet starlet this year, and this will most likely result in Zara and H&M carrying something similar.”

Adamson added that brands have got even better at reactive marketing in recent years.

“If they see something at the awards that added sizzle to a look, a dress, a hairdo, then they can more quickly react to not only fueling but bringing something in store to say, ‘Here is what Jennifer Lawrence wore, and here is something quite similar,” he noted.

No matter how you spin it, time is of the essence for all retailers. Both Adamson and La Vecchia noted that by Wednesday, much of the fuss over the Oscars will have died down, and consumers will be talking about something new. Of course, that’s not always the case for yet another retail subset: high-street fashion.

“It's not uncommon for high-street designers to produce copies of the dresses the female celebrities wear on the red carpet,” said Gil Eyal, founder and CEO of HYPR Brands. “Michelle Williams’ saffron Vera Wang gown that she wore to the Oscars in 2006 is still available to buy today [from sites like Liz and Liz].”