A tarnished reputation: why The Oscars are no longer golden

Large f19f3a5c f428 4b9a 9bac e0853e8ef8d6

The handling of Will Smith’s outburst by The Academy, is a lesson for all organisations in brand value and living by brand values.

Last month we were treated to an unusually dramatic set of events at The Oscars, and it’s something I have been pondering long after the rest of the world has moved on. 

I do not wish to get into a commentary on Mr. Smith and his particular state of mind - I hope he and Mrs. Smith are ok - one can only assume they are having a hard time.

Nonetheless, the handling of Will Smith’s outburst by The Academy, is a lesson for all brands in living by their brand values, and how those which are not protected and understood are doomed to irrevocably undermine the brand and indeed the entire organisation.

No longer a class act

In 2018, an article in Variety commented on the security leading up to The Oscars: 

“More than 500 officers will be on hand, many of them working overtime, to ensure the safety of the 90th Academy Awards, along with firefighters, police helicopters and agents from the FBI. Private security guards from Security Industry Specialists will work the inside of the theatre. ‘We have these concentric rings of security that start in the middle and radiate outward,’ says LAPD Cmdr. Blake Chow, who is overseeing the operation. ‘We have a lot of officers in fixed posts and foot beats keeping an eye on the event.’”

One assumes that security is not wildly different today, and yet as Mr. Smith approached the stage, not one ‘Security Industry Specialist’, or frankly anyone else,  got up to stop him. Are we to believe therefore that if anyone else had attempted to get on that stage when they were not authorised to do so, that no intervention would have been made? This could easily have been another Monica Seles incident.

Secondly, the time it took for The Academy to respond seemed achingly long. There was no immediate condemnation of this wonton display of violence. Apparent to everyone outside the organisation was that they were scrambling for an answer to such an unprecedented event. On the one hand, you can understand why, but on the other it clearly points towards a lack of guiding brand principles that ultimately mean there appears to be one rule for most people and another for the privileged few.

If you have a value driven brand, you would deal with such an incident immediately, irrespective of the popularity of the perpetrator. Perhaps that might mean removing them from the building, contacting the police and/or giving the Oscar to the runner up instead. 

As it happened, the Oscars took place on 28th March. In a statement the following day (after an internal meeting) they said: 

“The Academy condemns the actions of Mr. Smith at last night’s show […] We have officially started a formal review around the incident and will explore further action and consequences in accordance with our bylaws, standards of conduct and California law.”

The statement was issued along with a five-page document on standards of conduct, which broadly says that they don’t condone hitting people. Surely, as an intrinsic part of their code of conduct then it shouldn’t take 24 hours to respond. Furthermore, it wasn’t until nearly two weeks later, yes that’s right two weeks, that they landed upon their solution - to ban the actor from the ceremony—or any other Academy events—for a decade. 

I, for one, will never look at The Academy in quite the same way again.

Brand values and brand value

I am beginning to sound like Miss Marple, so back to my point. 

Data shows that 71% of consumers say they want to buy from a brand that aligns with their values. The Harvard Business Review wrote:

“Consumers place a premium on brands that they believe to be direct, forthright about their values, and consistent in acting on them.”

Shared values are a signal to consumers that you belong together and it’s what sets you apart in a world of enormous competition. Nike doesn’t just sell sports clothing - it sells a set of values, an ideology.

Meanwhile, as you will have heard me say before, brand value is something that transcends transactions and makes your business and its services or products worth more than the sum of their parts. It is a tangible asset, important to consumers but also to shareholders, and your values directly correlate with your value.

When it comes to protecting your values and your value, inaction can be as damaging as action. I come back to a quote I often reference, courtesy of of the esteemed Warren Buffet: 

“It takes 20 years to build a reputation, and five minutes to ruin it.”

Even if you’re The Oscars.