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Pharmaceutical and Personal Hygiene Commercials Banned

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NEW YORK ( -- Although theAcademy Awards ad inventory sold out early at record-breaking prices, marketers' creative materials were tightly policed for potentially controversial content before last evening's Oscars broadcast.
Photo: AP
Strict rules are designed to ensure that advertising is appropriate to the dignity of the Academy Awards.

Extraordinarily vigilant
Both the Walt Disney Co.'s ABC network and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences remained extraordinarily vigilant over content issues this year, according to participants.

Joseph Lewczak, partner at Davis and Gilbert, a law firm representing advertising agency holding companies WPP Group and Omnicom Group, told on Friday: "The biggest issue is really the taste issue. ... There was a retrenchment in 2004 [following the Super Bowl]. They want all the ads to be in good taste. A lot of our agencies are submitting ads that are going to be on this weekend. It is more about taste, we've had a couple of issues." He declined to discuss the nature of those issues.

Some ad changes required
ABC required some changes in ads it deemed inappropriate but has not publicly identified the involved marketers. According to executives familiar with negotiations, the network's action was in part the result of its own Nicollette Sheridan "Towel-gate" ad incident during a November NFL game. The network was roundly rebuked for running a spot promoting its hot series Desperate Housewives featuring series star Ms. Sheridan clad only in a white towel, which she shed before jumping into the arms of Philadelphia Eagles star receiver Terrell Owens.

Last night, there was virtually no possibility of such a gaff because the Academy has established hard rules for what kind of ad content it will allow during the Oscars. In fact, the Academy was one of the first organizations to set strict policies about advertising content. The NFL has similarly followed suit on the heels of the Janet Jackson halftime show during the 2004 Super Bowl.

Pharmaceutical and hygiene ads
The Academy's guidelines, which have been in effect since 1976, include a ban on pharmaceutical or personal hygiene ads -- which are deemed potentially distasteful.

A document of pure legalese governs the way advertisers can associate themselves with the event. The general principle is that advertising must be appropriate to the dignity of the Academy Awards.

Advertising can't feature presenters or nominees scheduled to appear on Sunday night. Singer Sean combs, a.k.a. P. Diddy, who was an Oscars presenter, had appeared in a Super Bowl ad for Pepsi but that ad did not run during last night's broadcast. The rules govern not only marketers' ads but their online content as well. Mentions or representations of the Oscar statuette are prohibited.

The tight guidelines don't stop advertisers from using clips from Oscar nominated movies. Omnicom Group's BBDO Worldwide borrowed scenes from the movie Spartacus for a humorous spot for the Pepsi brand. BBDO's executive vice president, Don Schneider, said movies play a huge part of the culture.

"We've used Marlon Brando's voice from The Godfather and we're always drawing from what's in the vernacular," he said. "Often you're going to see movie references in ads."

Mr. Schneider said he stays away from using current movies because of the Oscar rules. "We now know you can't use someone who's going to be a presenter."

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