As Awards Season Heats Up, 5 Marketing Lessons Learned from the SAG-AFTRA Strike

By Brian Feit, Founding Partner, BMF

During the nearly four month-long SAG-AFTRA strike, marketers proved critical to both studios and talent. Creative quick-thinkers successfully promoted movies and TV series without stars to publicize them, and Barbie, of course, set the gold standard thanks to an unprecedented rollout of creative experiences and inventive partnerships.

For actors, brands offered lucrative opportunities that kept them in the public eye. Timothee ChalametTaika Waititi, and Hannah Waddington are just a few who announced brand deals during the strike, adding to the already-booming rise of strategic celebrity partnerships that maximize their off-screen personas.

With the strike now in the rearview and Hollywood’s awards season kicking into high gear, it’s an ideal time to spotlight how marketers learned to flourish outside the norm in this arena. Here are the five most important success tactics that marketers can learn from and add to their playbooks.

Bringing the IP Straight to the Consumer 

Traditionally, audiences are passive observers of PR efforts built around talent – like red carpets, panels and interviews. During the strike, however, marketers focused on directly connecting with consumers in imaginative, interactive ways.

Mid-strike, McDonald’s unrolled their “As Featured In” campaign that celebrated famous Golden Arches moments in cinematic history while promoting season two of the Disney+ series Loki. With limited-edition, Loki-themed combo meals and a Loki-McDonald’s pop-up experience, McDonald’s tapped the fandom and rode the buzz around the show’s highly anticipated second season.

Big Creative Stunts That Didn’t Rely on Talent

Taking risks with out-of-the-box activations paid off. Instead of exclusive Hollywood-only events, marketers offered accessible, exciting experiences that drove brand awareness and planted the seeds for ambitious future concepts.

Netflix, master of immersive marketing, enjoyed the continued success of The Queen’s Ball: A Bridgerton Experience in major cities while announcing a similar experiential campaign for its hit series Squid Game. The streamer also revealed plans for brick and mortar  “Netflix Houses” that will offer food, retail and other immersive activities tied to its programming as soon as 2025.

Redefining Brand Deals as Main Gigs, Not Side Hustles

During the strike, talent relied on their own celebrity to keep them financially afloat, accounting for a dramatic spike in new or reactivated Cameo memberships. With Hollywood paychecks becoming increasingly unreliable, it’s expected more and more entertainers will seek to establish themselves as monetizable brands, rather than depend on TV or film roles.

Big names are already cashing in on partnerships that capitalize on their public personas, like comedian Aubrey Plaza’s playful new campaign with Cointreau. The takeaway for businesses: stars are more open than ever to strategic partnerships that will increase the value of their personal brands. Now is the time to forge those relationships.

Leaning Hard into Social 

Smart social marketing tactics kept audiences engaged by inviting them to create content centered around the brand. The SAG-AFTRA strike ended live promotion of the Barbie movie mid-summer, but this Barbie was on every social feed thanks to its viral selfie-generator.

Without access to striking talent, brands also turned to new types of influencers, like the “hometown heroes” category of niche, but effective, local micro influencers. Due in part to the strike, spending on sponsored social media was greater than social ad spending in 2023, a trend that’s forecasted to keep growing.

Expanding Beyond Traditional Content

Entertainment media nimbly pivoted their editorial, moving away from major TV and movie stars while amping up coverage of non SAG-related categories like music and reality television.

Studios and networks also put scripted content on the back-burner, turning their attention to live events like branded sports. From Prime Video’s exclusive streaming of Thursday Night Football to Netflix’s live, nine-hole l Netflix Cup, sports are quickly becoming the new premium content to win new consumers.

The Bottom Line: While talent and PR was benched during the strike, marketers sprang into action with out-of-the-box, inspired strategies that served as more than temporary work-arounds. As post-strike talent promotion ramps up alongside awards season, marketers are primed to implement these key lessons in a jam-packed 2024.