Why Advertisers Keep Cozying Up to Oscar

Live Audience With Less Hype, Less Scrutiny and Less Money

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- The Oscars broadcast -- long regarded as the Super Bowl for women -- is today proving more popular with many marketers than the football-focused TV phenom, even for some of those looking to cross the gender divide.

Photo: Albert Watson
Seventy-seven percent of Oscar advertisers have stayed with the broadcast over the past 12 years.

Oscar night may still be definitively second-place in terms of the year's biggest live-event audiences, but it's a lot less trouble for advertisers. At $1.7 million a spot, it's a less expensive buy -- saving CMOs those glares from the procurement department -- for a less cluttered ad environment. And, as is important for many advertisers, it's less about shock tactics, blog rants and endless media scrutiny.

Shock value vs. emotion
MasterCard's Chris Jogis this year opted to pass on the Super Bowl, the first time in three years the company has skipped out, and instead chose the Academy Awards to launch a spot to promote both its PayPass product and its website Priceless.com. "The Super Bowl is about shock value; our advertising is about inspiring people," said Mr. Jogis, VP-U.S. brand marketing. "Our ads are all about emotion, and we can share the cinematic effort."

The company even employed famed director Jim Sheridan to film a spot about the ease of using its new card for cheap purchases. Mr. Sheridan's credits include "My Left Foot" and "Get Rich or Die Tryin'." The TV effort pushes the audiences to watch further vignettes from the campaign at MasterCard's "Priceless" site.

The Super Bowl has proved a tough sell the past few years for the networks that have hosted it, with sales teams scrambling to complete deals until the last few days before the event. ABC, which broadcasts the Oscars, wrapped up its sales efforts a few weeks ago, with more brands set to appear in the show and a list of back-up advertisers waiting to get in.

Perhaps that's because, in part, it appears slightly less of an advertising extravagance. At $1.7 million for a 30-second spot, an Oscar spot is actually pricier per eyeball than the Super Bowl -- which generally has more than double its audience -- but it's still almost a million dollars cheaper per unit than the Bowl, inviting a little less criticism from the board and the procurement executives. What's more, ABC says it will air only 49 spots during its three-hour broadcast on Sunday, Feb. 25; the Super Bowl, which rotates among broadcast networks, carries 60 spots.

'Prestige environment'
"It is a prestige environment and very clean," said Geri Wang, senior VP-prime-time sales at ABC. "We do not add in commercials, given the live nature of the show; we don't do an overtime reel."

While audiences have fluctuated depending on the popularity of the nominated movies, the Oscars still brings in around 40 million viewers and can claim one of the most upscale audiences across the dial, according to Mediamark Research. Last year, the broadcast delivered 38.8 million viewers, 60% female and 40% male. The Super Bowl tends to deliver the opposite audience composition, more male than female, but in greater numbers since its total audience is 90 million viewers.

Unlike the Super Bowl, the Oscars don't have the possibility of a blowout by halftime diminishing its audience. With the biggest awards saved for the end of the broadcast, there's a better chance the audience will stick around.

This year's host is marketer-friendly Ellen DeGeneres, whose presence could signal a less controversial event. Last year's awards were hosted by Jon Stewart of Comedy Central's "The Daily Show," and the year before by comic Chris Rock. Both performers drew mixed reviews for their wisecracking commentary, which poked fun at the ceremony itself.

Diet Coke, JC Penney
While 77% of Oscar advertisers have stayed with the broadcast over the past 12 years, according to TNS Media Intelligence data, one -- PepsiCo -- pulled out last year and was replaced by Coca-Cola. This year Diet Coke is fielding a spot that involves an unseen celebrity demanding a Diet Coke before she'll go out on stage. The spot comes from Wieden & Kennedy. Retailer JC Penney is in the midst of launching a lingerie line and will use the awards to promote its fresh campaign, "Every Day Matters," from Saatchi & Saatchi.

Other broadcast advertisers include American Express, AT&T, Bank of America, CareerBuilder, Dove Cream Oil, General Motors, Kodak, L'Oreal, Masterfoods, McDonald's and Microsoft. The beer category will not be represented this year; Anheuser-Busch and archrival Miller Brewing are both sitting out the broadcast.

Microsoft, using the Oscar platform as part of its massive Vista promotion, is also doing some creative buying. The company will air three spots, each separated by a nonrelated commercial. The spots, two 15-seconds and a 30-second, will tell a single narrative and help keep viewers through the breaks.

This year, ABC is offering advertisers a multiplatform experience, serving up a mobile offering for the first time along with web opportunities at the Oscar website. Olay, Dove and AT&T are among advertisers on the site. The mobile site will give users the opportunity to see Ms. DeGeneres' weekly video diary as well as fashion reporting and competitions.
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