Dear Basketball, an extraordinary animated short by three legends, animation icon Glen Keane, basketball great Kobe Bryant, and revered maestro John Williams, unquestionably presented a series of unique publicity and marketing challenges. To start, the animation industry is a very tight-knit community which makes no secret of their preference for independent projects and heavy support for those within the arts community. In fact, the Academy Shorts category has its own unique qualifying process which does not apply to any other Oscar category. Accordingly, from the outset, we faced five clear hurdles. First, we needed to position a film from three of the biggest heavyweights in arts, sports and music, as a beautiful little independent work of art. Second, Kobe, having retired from basketball only two years earlier, had no previous animation or entertainment experience and could effectively be viewed as a virtual outsider. Third, the film was acquired early on by entertainment powerhouse Verizon for free distribution across its platforms which would give the appearance that this was a large-scale financial project and not independent at all. Fourth, Verizon was (and remains) our client so ultimately it was their brand that we were tasked with promoting. And fifth, John Williams’s heavy schedule did not enable him to participate in any publicity or marketing for the film. To support Verizon’s efforts, we created a highly targeted digital and in-person marketing campaign designed to reach every member of the animation community. Our team approached potential voters where they lived online, in the media they consumed, at the Festivals they attended, and at their offices. Working closely, consistently, and softly with the filmmakers (at least as much as we could, given the level of talent involved), we brought the movie to every animation festival, to multiple major film studios, to animation organizational groups like ASIFA, and before every animation industry lover. Because this truly was a personal passion project for Kobe and Glen, they made themselves accessible to anyone and everyone. They spoke with audiences about the evolution of the project, about Kobe’s lifetime obsession with animation, about the importance of the film’s message – the power of believing in one’s dreams and the possibility of achieving the impossible - and more. Through these sometimes intimate (and often not) conversations and screenings, animation audiences came to see the film for what it was, an endearing project with a significant takeaway, for which audience-goers personally related. The film became about each viewer’s own dream, which is what we anticipated would happen if the movie and the filmmakers were given that chance. Following the Short-List and Annie nomination announcements, both of which Dear Basketball qualified for - making it one of only two films in the Shorts space to receive both accolades - we announced the Verizon acquisition and widely released the film to consumers. Once publicly available, we faced three new challenges. One, we still needed the film to be taken seriously by Short-List Academy voters (which consists of about 500 people). Two, we did not want the movie to be seen as a frontrunner and therefore lose potential votes. And three, the entertainment industry was suddenly going through a publicity crisis of its own. Thus, throughout this period though we continued to do additional studio visits and screenings with Kobe and Glen, we also held small Academy screenings in New York, which, with the full support of both, were attended by local art students who met with them personally. In addition, because the consumer press coverage for the film was steadily growing and we needed to keep the film small, it was decided that Kobe and Glen would only do a handful of interviews with consumer press so that the filmmakers would not overshadow the project. The strategy paid off because in January 2018, Dear Basketball won the Annie and earned both Glen and Kobe their first Oscar nominations. Though we were ecstatic, we knew that in order to win, we needed to employ an internally heavy / externally light marketing and publicity campaign. As with any Oscar nominated project, the publicity for the film suddenly became enormous. It then became crucial that we keep our efforts focused on the Short itself and ensure that the entire team which brought it to life was credited. Consequently, we promoted John Williams’ (who is revered within the Academy) incredible involvement and Glen Keane’s historic career, which despite spanning 45-years had never produced an Oscar nomination. Through a combination of strategic online and offline marketing, we were able to subtly deliver these messages and keep voters focused on and watching this beautiful little film. As is the case in basketball and with Awards, through the concerted efforts of every member of the team, on March 4, 2018, we helped deliver Kobe Bryant and Glen Keane their first Oscar statues and brought Verizon its first Oscar-winning film.
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