How Jeff Bridges Voice-overs Imperiled Hyundai's Oscars Blitz

Kim Basinger, Richard Dreyfuss and Others Helped Hyundai Comply With Oscars Rules at the Last Second

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NEW YORK ( -- Hyundai Motor America was all ready to bombard this year's Oscars with a raft of commercials -- seven different spots were locked, loaded and ready to go. With just a few weeks to go before the March 7 ceremony, however, the company was told its commercials were unfit for air.

The problem? Actor Jeff Bridges has been doing voice-overs for Hyundai since 2007. But Mr. Bridges is also a nominee for best actor in this year's contest for his role in "Crazy Heart."

Even with the new accommodation last year that finally let movie studios advertise actual movies during the Oscars, marketers still have to make sure certain ads featuring celebrities or celebrity voice-overs don't run near segments of the program that could feature those very same stars.

Actor Jeff Bridges has been doing voiceovers for Hyundai since 2007.

Trying to determine where seven Hyundai ads could run and not violate the conditions of Oscars advertising was simply too much to handle, suggested Chris Perry, director-marketing communications, Hyundai Motor America. So the automaker is keeping the ads but has enlisted seven other celebrities to read the marketing copy.

"We've been scrambling to get this thing done," said Mr. Perry. Instead of Mr. Bridges, the ads' narrators will be Kim Basinger, Richard Dreyfuss, David Duchovny, Catherine Keener, Michael Madsen, Mandy Patinkin and Martin Sheen.

Other advertisers taking part in this year's broadcast are Coca-Cola; Ameriprise; CBS Corp.'s CBS Films; The Hershey Company; JCPenney; Kimberly-Clark; McDonald's, Microsoft; Church & Dwight's OxiClean; Samsung Electronics Media; Summit Entertainment; Sprint; and Walt Disney Pictures.

A 30-second spot in ABC's Oscars broadcast costs between $1.3 million and $1.5 million, according to media buyers, close to the price for ad inventory in last year's show. With ratings increases notched by recent airings of the Super Bowl, Grammys and other big-ticket programming, advertisers are hoping the Oscars takes part in the trend.

"It seems like a lot of these shows are picking up steam," said Mr. Perry.

The hope is that, with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences broadening its best picture category to 10 nominees, a wider audience will tune in, he added. Oscars ratings have long hinged on the popularity of the best picture slate. In 1997, for example, approximately 55 million viewers tuned in to see the crowd-pleasing "Titanic" win best picture.

But in 2003, when "Chicago" won the honor, only 33 million watched. And just 32 million tuned in to see "No Country for Old Men" snare the prize in 2008. Oscar ratings hit a new low that year, down from about 38.9 million in 2007, according to Nielsen research compiled by Brad Adgate, senior VP-research at independent ad buyer Horizon Media. Oscar ratings rebounded in 2009, when the event snared approximately 36.3 million viewers.

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