Feb 252013




By Katherine Ayers

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Two East Carolina University professors will take their love of branding, advertising and social media all the way to the 85th Academy Awards on Sunday evening.

Tracy Tuten and Christy Ashley, both professors in ECU’s Business Department, will be studying how celebrity influence intersects with social influence in terms of social media.

“The Academy Awards are the second-most tweeted about event of the year,” Ashley said. “They’re a lot more flexible about giving people access (than other awards shows), but there’s still the most branding opportunities.”

Ashley, who teaches a class on human behaviors and marketing strategies, said the pair applied to attend the awards in September and were accepted in November. They will be seated in bleachers along the red carpet and primarily will focus on what brands the celebrities are wearing rather than on the celebrities themselves or in which movies they starred.

“We’re focused on the red carpet brands and how social media affects those brands,” Ashley said.

During the pre-show and event, people can follow each professor on Twitter at @brandacity (Tuten) and @drcashley (Ashley). During the event, they will be using the hashtag #redcarpetbrands.

Tuten and Ashley could not be more different in their expectations for the experience.

“I’m incredibly excited,” Tuten said. “If I wasn’t going to the Oscars with Christy, I would be dressed at home in my media room, having baked a red velvet cake and would have set aside my day to watch the red carpet arrivals.”

Ashley said she is so focused on the research part of the project she has not had a chance to get excited yet.

“Sometimes you do research and hypothesize one thing and it doesn’t work out, so that’s making knots in my stomach,” she said. “It’s a field study which makes the results more realistic but it’s like riding a bike with no hands.”

Tuten, who is teaching a class on advertising and social media marketing this semester, said researchers usually do a test run before an actual experiment.

“We would usually do a pre-test, fix the bugs (in the experiment) and then run a control,” Tuten said. “We don’t have that option this time.”

Tuten said she is interested in social media because it is constantly changing.

“It’s democratized the relationship between people and brands,” she said. “Any individual can reach out to a brand and have a voice.”

As an example, Tuten said a musician put together a song about his flight on United Airlines where they broke his guitar in transit, he wrote a song and uploaded it to YouTube. The airline company heard it and then flew him out to meet with their executive board.

Ashley said the most interesting piece of the brand puzzle for her is that brand loyalty will make people do “crazy” things.

“There’s a multibillion experiment that’s going on around us,” she said. “You can never really understand all the magic that’s associated with branding and as long as that’s true I’ll be interested in it,”

Before the Oscar research project, the pair had authored two papers together, both on how people communicate about brands using social media.

Contact Katherine Ayers at kayers@reflector.com and 252-329-9567. Follow her on Twitter @KatieAyersGDR.


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