The Feb. 24 telecast is drawing a big roster of blue-chip marketers, including Coca-Cola, Procter & Gamble, American Express, Unilever (Dove Cream Body Wash and Bertolli frozen dinners), JC Penney, L'Oréal, Mars, McDonald's and MasterCard. General Motors Corp., the biggest advertiser of the Oscars broadcast in each of the past 12 years, is also back.
GM so values its Oscars partnership that it is the sole auto sponsor of ABC's broadcast. The automaker will provide 75 of its environmentally-friendly vehicles to shuttle celebs to the red carpet and other Oscar-week events, including the GMC Yukon Hybrid, advertised during the Super Bowl, the FlexFuel E85 ethanol version of Yukon and the zero-gas and zero-emissions Chevy Equinox Fuel Cell.
Show of strength
The Academy Awards show is one of the biggest annual events on broadcast TV, so it's little surprise that top advertisers often seek to use it as a platform to launch products or promote unique messages to the buying public. This year, however, the event takes on new meaning: showing what power broadcast TV has at a time when many advertisers are questioning its abilities.
Until the strike was settled, there was great concern the Oscars could be scuttled, as the work stoppage ended the NBC's telecast of the Golden Globes and altered CBS's showing of the annual People's Choice Awards -- all fanning flames about whether network TV's place in the media landscape would be permanently diminished.
"There are some unique issues this year. There has been a lot to consider, even without the strike," said Ed Gentner, senior VP-group director at Publicis Groupe's MediaVest buying firm, which works for two Oscars advertisers, Procter & Gamble and Coca-Cola.
Live events such as the Oscars and Super Bowl are gaining even more interest among marketers these days. With viewers able to skip ads by using DVRs, entertainment properties that spur consumers to watch commercials as they take place may give them a better chance of being seen. So while Hollywood is grateful that its stars and directors will get a chance to have their moment in the spotlight, the marketers are equally relieved the show will go on.
ABC has promoted the Oscars for weeks on its own air as if there was never a question that the event might run. "That's how you have to do it," Mr. Gentner said. "There's a lot of money invested in these shows, and from an advertising perspective, why pull out prematurely if you don't have to? "
In some ways, that's how advertisers view broadcast TV. In a sea of emerging media that target niche audiences, broadcast networks must bring in the biggest audiences of all. If shows don't garner big numbers, or begin to lure fewer to the screen, it's cause for concern -- and not immediately obvious whether rival media such as cinema, out-of-home, cable and digital can be cobbled together to duplicate reach.
One media buyer suggested advertisers can buy out a day on the big web portals -- Yahoo, MSN and AOL -- and achieve an equivalent reach, but that the cost of doing so can be prohibitive. With the upfront coming into view, the Oscars will have to shine in ways they haven't had to in the past.