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As winners were announced at the Oscars, we delivered real-time congratulatory display ads that drove people to buy or rent the winning movies on Google Play. The aim was to create hyper-relevant, real-time marketing that added to the on-screen action. See what we learned and how the ads performed.

On Sunday, February 22, the world waited with bated breath to find out who would win the Oscar for Best Picture. Behind the scenes, we were waiting, too—with ad creative to push live as soon as the winner was announced. As Sean Penn read the list of nominees, we had eight possible ads ready to go. The moment that Birdman won the Academy Award, we flipped the switch for the Birdman custom creative. Fans watched Alejandro González Iñárritu and his cast take the stage while ads congratulating the film were delivered to second-screen devices. What used to take hours to scale now took mere seconds, and viewers could go directly to the Google Play Store to buy or rent the winning film.

Awards season is officially over now, with the crown jewel, the Academy Awards, having wrapped. More than 36 million fans tuned in to see who took home those coveted statuettes. For brands, this was a golden opportunity to connect with highly engaged fans. But viewers are doing much more than simply watching TV: Nielsen research suggests that 84% of smartphone and tablet owners watch TV with their mobile device in hand. And as soon as a movie wins an award, searches for that movie skyrocket, according to Google Trends.

Like many brand marketers, we wanted to tap into the energy and excitement of the Oscars. In the spirit of exploring how real-time marketing could work on the web—a foundation we laid with Nike Phenomenal Shot and EA Sports Madden GIFERATOR—we focused the latest Art, Copy & Code project on one of our own brands, Google Play. In addition to Google Play's brand TV spot and social activity throughout the Oscars, real-time display ads reflected what was unfolding on TV to drive people to the winning movies on Google Play.

Best Picture ad screenshot

Building real-time ads for the Oscars

We looked at how fans used search and YouTube for award-winning films. For example, when Boyhood took home multiple Golden Globes earlier this year, searches for the movie peaked within 15 minutes of each win (and 65–70% of those searches were on mobile). This gave us a target time frame for engaging this keen audience. It also formed the basis of our creative and media strategy: Serve ads the very moment anticipation is at its highest—as the award is announced.

Sneaking a peek at those coveted Academy envelopes wasn't an option, so we had to be prepared for all possible outcomes. This meant creating templates in DoubleClick Studio for both desktop and mobile ads, allowing us to build versions of the creative at scale, using the creative assets that the movie studios gave us.

Once the creative was built and the various ads were queued up, we grabbed the popcorn and sat back to watch the action unfold on live TV, and on our mobile phones, tablets, and laptops. As each major award was announced, we served the ads using the new real-time ad delivery tool we've been testing—the same one we piloted with EA Sports and Nike—that allowed the creative to be instantly scaled to the millions of people browsing sites and apps in the Google Display Network.

Before the winners made it to the stage to accept their awards, ads about the films were in the hands of fans. And as suspected, click-through rates for the real-time ads were 19% higher than for the control ads (Source: AdWords). It wasn't just the ads' performance that we cared about, though. We were also following the peak in brand interest. We saw a 59% lift in searches for Google Play movies among those who saw the ads, according to Google's Brand Lift measurement tool.

Four real-time marketing lessons

With real-time advertising, brands can create ads that not only reach, but resonate. As we continue to rethink real-time, we're writing the rules as we go. Here are a few things we learned this time around:

1. Start with data and insights Smart marketers are putting data at the start and heart of their campaigns. Understand where your audience is, beyond social media, including the sites and apps they're using and the content they're seeking. For this campaign, both the creative and media strategy were driven by data and insights showing that interest in movies peaks following an award win. Pair that with the fact that audiences are browsing mobile devices while watching TV, and we had an opportunity in the Oscars that was ripe for real-time marketing.

2. Build creative with flexibility in mind Build flexible creative that you can update and adapt in real-time to be most relevant. For this campaign, we used DoubleClick Studio, which allowed different creative assets to be swapped to many variations of the ads in preparation for different outcomes at the awards ceremony.

3. Make real time purposeful and additive With real-time advertising, the key is to ensure that your brand is adding to the user's experience, not just interrupting the moment. In the case of Nike Phenomenal Shot, which celebrated memorable sports moments that happened seconds earlier in the World Cup, deeper engagement was the aim. The same was true for EA Sports Madden GIFERATOR, which delivered GIFs of game highlights to NFL fans instantaneously and let them create and share their own to taunt their rivals. For Google Play, the aim was hyper-relevant information in the form of instant access to movies that had just won awards. Brands should be fueling people's passion during advertising at live events. Add to their experience instead of interrupting it.

4. Measure the impact of real-time efforts There's no doubt that real-time marketing requires planning ahead. Was it worth it? We ran a test and control experiment to find out. The test versions were the real-time ads that congratulated the winners as they were announced. The controls were a group of generic ads that featured all Oscar movies on Google Play. Our test proved successful: Click-through rates for the test/real-time ads were 19% higher than for the control ads.