Credit: Michael Yada / A.M.P.A.S.

Oscars Pizza Stunt Hands Coke a Free Ticket to Pepsi's 'Exclusive' Night

Unexpected Stunt Steals Thunder From Soft-Drink Sponsor Pepsi

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Coca-Cola stole Pepsi's thunder during Sunday night's broadcast of the Academy Awards on ABC.

While Pepsi replaced Coca-Cola as the exclusive soft-drink sponsor of the Oscars this year, it wound up facing the unexpected appearance of Coca-Cola logos on three pizza boxes delivered to the show.

The pizzas appeared as part of a bit by host Ellen DeGeneres, who joked about attendees' growing hunger during the lengthy ceremony and ultimately brought out three pizzas from Los-Angeles based pizzeria Big Mama's & Papa's.

As a Big Mama's delivery guy doled out slices to stars including Brad Pitt and Jared Leto, Coca-Cola's logo -- positioned on the side of the pizza boxes -- wound up with prime, free placement during one of the most expensive TV events of the year. A 30-second ad during the telecast was going for $1.9 million this year, according to media buyers.

While Coca-Cola marketing execs are probably wishing they could take credit for the unplanned placement, execs at ABC are most certainly wishing they'd foreseen it before allowing the boxes to appear on air. According to an executive close to the situation, PepsiCo, which ran ads during the telecast for several of its brands, has brought the situation to ABC's attention. The network is said to be investigating the incident.

An ABC spokeswoman declined to comment on the placement, as did a Pepsi spokeswoman.

"Big Mama's & Big Papa's Pizzeria is a longstanding Coca-Cola customer," a Coca-Cola spokeswoman said. "We were surprised and delighted to see them appear during last night's Academy Awards and think they did an outstanding job of bringing some extra fun and excitement to the show."

Coca-Cola decided to sit out of the awards show this year after being the exclusive non-alcoholic beverage sponsor since 2006. The sponsorship had served as one of the key marketing events for its Diet Coke brand.

Coca-Cola spent $41.5 million advertising during the Oscars between 2009 and 2013, according to Kantar Media.

This year PepsiCo took over the slot vacated by Coca-Cola, running a 60-second spot promoting its mini cans. The company also ran a 60-second ad for Lipton, in partnership with Unilever, as well as a 30-second ad for Aquafina Flavor Splash. Qua, its new premium water, was also distributed at the Oscars.

Ms. DeGeneres' stunt created significant buzz on social media.

Even without buying time during the Oscars and remaining relatively quiet during the awards, Coca-Cola managed to garner 4,978 mentions on social media related to the Oscars between midnight Friday and Monday morning, according to Salesforce. In comparison, Pepsi had 5,018 social mentions in conjunction with the Academy Awards during the same period.

The Oscars hit a 10-year high in viewership, watched by an average of 43 million people, up from 40.4 million in 2013.

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