Kalum Wilson

Kalum Wilson

Helping Small and Medium Businesses Achieve Their Full Marketing Potential | Digital Marketing Expert

Will Smith… Marketing Genius or Outright Attacker?

Unless you were living under a rock yesterday then I’m sure you’re aware that one of Chris Rock’s jokes at the Oscars had not just one, but two punch lines…

Firstly, it should go without saying that we in no way condone Will Smith’s actions, whether it was a marketing stunt, whether it was provoked or any of the above; it was physical assault and should have been resolved peacefully.

However, it’s worth contemplating on how genuine this moment was. On the surface it seems impossible to have been staged, Will Smith explodes in anger first by hitting his peer Chris Rock and then by shouting and swearing the room into silence. But let’s not forget what award Will Smith won later that night… (Best Actor).

But why stage such a moment, how much publicity would something like this really achieve? Well, let’s find out.

The Most Retweeted Selfie


The Oscars have been declining in popularity for many years now, in fact they received their lowest ratings EVER in 2021, it’s likely for this reason that the Oscars staged a ‘candid’ selfie in 2014 containing some of the world’s most famous actors. The tweet went on to hold the title of ‘most retweeted tweet’ for 3 years (but don’t take your tin foil hats off just yet, we’re just getting started).

The selfie was taken with a Samsung Galaxy Note 3 and as it turns out, Samsung were the sponsors of the Oscars. Samsung were promised by ABC that their phones would receive prominent screen time, to further capitalise on this, Samsung ran some $20,000,000 worth of ads during the commercial breaks of the Oscars… (Have you still got your tin foil hat on?)

I’m not trying to say that Will Smith is running product placement for the hottest new knuckle dusters but this demonstrates the reach and influence an event like the Oscars can have.

Moonlight / La La Land Mix Up


Cast your mind back – It’s 2017, the sun is shining, Covid-19 doesn’t exist and you have no idea who Carol Baskin is… The world is good.

In 2017 Jimmy Kimmel ‘accidentally’ announced that La La Land won best picture before correcting himself and awarding the Oscar to Moonlight. It was a chaotic affair, crews of both films were very confused but (compared to how Will Smith deals with hosts) it was handled and dealt with amicably.

However, the internet took a hold of this and it got people talking about the Oscars like they hadn’t been for years. Interestingly, the highlights reel for the Oscars in 2017 has 256k views whereas the clip of the La La Land / Moonlight mix up has 6.9 million views. This clearly demonstrates that the general public have much more interest in the drama of the awards than the awards and art itself.

Will Smith – Marketing Genius Or Outright Attacker?


Will Smith is absolutely ahead of the game when it comes to social media marketing, he is constantly running competitions, starting trends and actively engaging in collaborations with other influencers/celebrities. He was also an early adopter of TikTok, while others were making fun of the app and writing it off as a the newest in a line of fads for kids, Will Smith was creating unique, viral content and engaging with his target demographic in a place that no other actor was at the time. It’s also worth noting that the most prevalent demographic on TikTok (18-24) has significant overlap with the most prominent ages of cinema visitors (15-25) this isn’t a coincidence, it’s a case of clever and innovative digital marketing.

People have defended this as a completely genuine act of anger with no ulterior motive for relevancy by saying that Will Smith knew he was a favourite for best actor – “why would he need even more spotlights on him if he is already the star of the Oscars?”.

As we’ve already established, the public’s actual interest in the Oscars as an awards ceremony has dwindled in recent years (reaching an all time low in 2021) with people being far more interested in the drama, the slip ups and the “moments”. 

I couldn’t tell you who won best actor in 2021, or 2020, or any other year… But I know I’ll never forget the year that Will Smith won best actor – simply because of this unforgettable moment and all the buzz surrounding it. Similarly, I have no idea which films have won best film at recent Oscar awards but I know that Moonlight won best film in 2017 because of all the conversations and memes (read free organic marketing) that followed the mix up with La La Land.

Search volume for Will Smith has dramatically increased following this event but not for his accomplishment as best actor or his brilliant work in King Richard. According to Google Trends, the top 25 breakout queries relating to “Will Smith” are all relating to the altercation between Will Smith & Chris Rock, not one query is about him finally winning best actor after 35+ years of acting. 

Oscars – Google Trends Data

In less than 24 hours there have been thousands and thousands of tweets, posts, memes, YouTube videos and TikToks (again, read free organic marketing) made about Will Smith’s reaction to Chris Rock’s joke about his wife.

Ultimately, we have no idea of concretely knowing if this was a staged moment, 100% genuine or somewhat pre planned. But what we do know for certain is that whether this was intentional or not, Will Smith being awarded best actor of 2022 will be ingrained in the world’s collective mind for years to come thanks to this moment & the world’s reaction to it.