What Coke, J.C. Penney and Other Advertisers Have Planned for the Oscars

Pepsi Backs Out as Coke Returns as Soft Drink Sponsor

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Coke's Free 2014 Oscar's Pizza Plug
Coke's Free 2014 Oscar's Pizza Plug Credit: Michael Yada / A.M.P.A.S.

Pepsi's reign as the exclusive soft-drink advertiser of the Academy Awards is over after just one year. Coca-Cola will replace its competitor this year and plans to run ads for Coke and Diet Coke during the broadcast on ABC, which is fetching as much as $2 million for 30-second ads.

Coca-Cola sat out last year's broadcast after serving as the exclusive non-alcoholic beverage advertiser since 2006. But the cola giant lucked into free PR after its brand name was prominently featured on pizza boxes shown during the broadcast. The pizzas appeared as part of a bit by host Ellen DeGeneres and came from a Los Angeles pizzeria that is a Coke partner.

A PepsiCo spokeswoman told Ad Age on Tuesday that the free Coke plug did not play a role in Pepsi's decision to stay out of this year's broadcast on Feb. 22. As for last year, she said ABC "rectified the issue," including giving the brand an unspecified number of make-good ads. "They addressed the situation and we have a really great situation with them at the network," she added.

Pepsi, she said, is focusing more on music than movies this year. The brand ran several ads during last weekend's Grammy Awards show as it launched a new music platform called "Out of the Blue" that includes music-related prizes.

ABC sold out of the Oscars in the fall. Last year's telecast drew more than 43 million viewers, an 8% increase from the year prior.

J.C. Penney will return for its 14th consecutive year, while General Motors, which took over as the exclusive auto advertiser from Hyundai in 2014, will continue to sponsor the telecast.

Samsung will also once again advertise in the awards show following its success last year. Samsung was one of the biggest winners of the 2014 Oscars following Ms. DeGeneres' infamous selfie, which prominently featured the white Samsung Galaxy Note 3. The selfie has been retweeted more than 3 million times. This year's show will be hosted by Neil Patrick Harris.

Netflix, AT&T and Discover will also run commercials. Anheuser-Busch InBev is also back and is expected to break a new ad for Stella Artois.

While Coca-Cola will advertise Coke during the broadcast, Diet Coke is expected to get most of the emphasis. "This broadcast is the pinnacle of award show season and one where we know our fans are tuning in," Andrew McMillin, Coca-Cola North America's VP for Coca-Cola brands, said in a statement. "Diet Coke will join the conversation about Hollywood's biggest night, encouraging fans to get a taste of Hollywood through unique social content and airing spots during the broadcast."

The brand did not provide further details on the creative by press time. In the fall, Diet Coke launched a new campaign called "Get a Taste" that has included some ads starring Taylor Swift.

The 2014 Oscars not only drew strong ratings but generated plenty of online buzz. "Last year's Oscars was a breakout year. The award show had gotten old and stuffy, but Ellen brought some social media hype to the show," said Courtney Maron, senior VP-group partner, integrated investment, UM.

But last year's success doesn't guarantee another home run this time around.

"Just because last year was a hit you can't hang your hat on it," Ms. Maron said, noting that this year's movie nominees are not as mainstream and that other awards shows have witnessed a slight decline in ratings year-over-year.

The Grammy Awards, which aired on Sunday, posted a 13% decline in total viewers, with 24.8 million people tuning in, the lowest turnout since 2009. The Golden Globes also saw a 7% drop in viewership from last year.

And while this year's host, Neil Patrick Harris, is well known and liked, Ms. Maron said he may not have the same appeal as Ms. DeGeneres.

Still, advertisers are attracted to the reliably large audiences that premium live programming offers. For the Oscars, that includes at least one lesser-known brand -- King's Hawaiian -- which is paying big bucks for an ad as it seeks to make a name for itself nationally.

The family-owned business makes what it says is the No. 1 branded dinner roll in the U.S. But the marketer only began formulating a national advertising strategy in 2013. The brand this year is billing itself as the "official snack of the awards season," and has already advertised during the People's Choice Awards and Golden Globes.

For the Oscars, the brand paid $800,000 for a 15-second ad, VP-Marketing Erick Dickens said in an interview. Mr. Dickens, whose resume includes stints at Kraft Foods and Henkel (where he worked on Right Guard), launched the national ad strategy after joining King's Hawaiian in May of 2013. He originally hired Energy BBDO, Chicago, as lead agency but has since switched to a boutique shop run by former McCann L.A. chief creative officer Steve Levit, he said.

King's Hawaiian was founded in Hilo, Hawaii, more than 60 years ago and is now headquartered in California, where it is well-known. But it has much lower awareness nationally, including on the East Coast, Mr. Dickens said.

He credited national advertising with boosting the brand's unaided awareness from 4% to 7% in the past 12 months. "The brand does well with moms that have kids in the house and awards shows are a prime place to reach those audiences," he said.

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