Oscars Play It Safe With Commercials

'Super Bowl for Women' Enforces Good Taste Ad Rules

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Science and ABC are playing it safe with advertising for the Feb. 29 broadcast of the 76th annual Oscars show.

The Academy and the network are working to keep offensive ads out of the Oscars broadcast.

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Critical screening
But this is nothing new. The Academy and the network have been critically screening and rejecting inappropriate commercials since they began working together with the 48th Academy Awards broadcast in 1976. ABC, which is owned by Walt Disney Co., has broadcast every Academy show since then.

Last year, the Oscars pulled in 33 million viewers, down from 41.8 million viewers in 2002, while 87.3 million tuned into this year's Super Bowl broadcast, according to CBS, which carried the game.

"We always refer to the Academy Awards as the 'Super Bowl for Women,' " said Shari Cohen, co-executive director national broadcast group at WPP Group's MindShare. "You tend to see a different type of advertiser. But like the Super Bowl, they are spending a lot of money in a high-impact landscape. They want to stand out."

But not stand out too much. Geri Wang, senior vice president of prime-time sales at the network, said all of the Oscar advertising is carefully vetted before it is scheduled, to make sure it's all in good taste.

Back-to-back dates
Many of this year's ads will also seem very familiar. Because the awards broadcast has been moved up a month earlier, from March 29 to Feb. 29, many of the ads are repeat performances from the Feb. 1 Super Bowl, television advertising's biggest event. On the other hand, the raunchy stuff from the game's telecast, including Bud Lite's notorious "farting horse" ad, will not take a second bow at the Oscars.

Mike Benson, senior vice president marketing, advertising and promotion at ABC, wants the Oscars to become a showcase for new spots. "We want to make a bigger deal about premiering new ads," he said. "There is some great new creative out there."

"Advertisers don't want to put ads up there that aren't their best," Ms. Cohen said. "They should put out new, original stuff."

Far too expensive
But the close proximity of the Super Bowl may make that impossible. One top media buyer told AdAge.com it would be far too expensive for advertisers to produce great creative ads for high-profile, back-to back-specials. "But if the Super Bowl and the NFL start censoring the advertising," the media buyer said, "maybe they'll shift their good stuff to the awards."

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