While some brands that advertised in the Oscars last year—like Microsoft, Indeed and Molson Coors-owned Peroni—won’t return this year, those that are still see the Oscars as an important cultural moment.
ABC announced on Thursday it sold out of commercial time in the telecast, with sales in part driven by an influx in first-time Oscars advertisers. Credit Karma, Airbnb, Grey Goose, Apartments.com, Accenture and Freshpet, are among the brands that will air commercials during the telecast.
Similarly to the Super Bowl, which saw at least 21 advertising newcomers, these first-time Oscar advertisers are “COVID-thriving brands,” says Jerry Daniello, senior VP, entertainment brand solutions, Disney Advertising Sales. These brands, Daniello says, are showing up on Sunday in an “interesting, timely and relevant way,” with many of them using the Oscars to launch new creative.
Other Oscars advertisers include: Google, General Motors, Rolex, Verizon, AARP, Adidas International, Apple, Corona, Eli Lilly, Expedia, GSK, Honda, Kellogg, Keurig, Mars, Procter & Gamble, Power to the Patient, and Subway, among others.
For Expedia, which is in the process of rethinking its role in cultural, this year’s telecast presents an opportunity to debut its new campaign moving out of the pandemic, which hit the travel category especially hard.
“It’s those tentpole moments that drive excitement from a cultural perspective,” says Chandreyi Davis, global VP, brand marketing, Expedia.
While Expedia has typically had a bigger presence in sporting events, the company's research has shown the reason its customers travel is to experience cultural moments, “so events like the Oscars bring that to them in their daily lives when they are not traveling,” Davis says.
Despite a dip in ratings, Davis says the company knows that its consumers, whom she refers to as, “sophisticated travelers looking for cultural experiences wherever they can get them,” are engaging with platforms like the Oscars.
Cadillac will use the Oscars to introduce its first electric crossover vehicle, LYRIQ. As a partner of the Academy Awards for the last eight years, Melissa Grady, chief marketing officer at Cadillac, says the show is important to the auto maker because it “reached an incredible global audience.”
“We’re excited as we know this year’s event will truly be unlike any previous Oscars. The Academy’s 'Awards-show-as-a-movie' approach will feature an ensemble cast, be broadcast from multiple locations and tell stories from some of the greatest storytellers in the world,” Grady said in an email.
Verizon, which will return for its fourth consecutive Oscars, also sees the awards show as an important cultural moment. “It’s also centered on storytelling, and one of our beliefs is telling the stories of our customers and our brand,” says Andrew McKechnie, chief creative officer, Verizon.
Since the company works with many directors within the industry on its own creative, McKechnie says “it is important we also show up and show support for the filmmaking community.”
Verizon leans heavily into sports, from its recent Super Bowl campaign to even partnering with the online gaming platform Fortnite. The Oscars allows it to reach a different kind of audience.
In recent years, women have made up 62% of the Oscars’ adult audience, with men accounting for the remainder.
Of course, no brand wants to see awards shows bleed viewers, especially with ABC asking about $2 million for a 30-second spot in this year’s Academy Awards.
The Oscars will cap an awards season that saw nearly ever major Hollywood spectacle hit record ratings lows. Just this week, the Academy of Country Music Awards on CBS drew just 6.1 million viewers and a 0.8 rating in the 18-49 demographic coveted by advertisers, making it the lowest-rated and least-watched ACM Awards in history.
Last month, CBS’ broadcast of the Grammys notched just 8.8 million viewers, less than half of the audience that watched the show in 2020. It also marked the first time the Grammys were watched by less than 10 million people since measurement data started being collected in the 1970s. The Golden Globes on NBC drew just 6.9 million viewers, a 63% plunge from the year prior and another record low. In September, the Emmy Awards averaged 6.1 million viewers, down 12% from 2019.
The ad world is desperately hoping viewership trends for awards shows this year are an anomaly. Even as linear TV audiences have significantly shrunk in recent years, live events have continued to be an important place for brands to reach large audiences during culturally relevant moments.
But even pre-pandemic, awards shows were on a steady decline. The 2020 Grammys, which took place in the weeks before the country went into lockdown, was the fourth least-watched Grammys in its more than 60-year history. The 2020 Golden Globes hit an eight-year low.
The Oscars are also coming off a historic ratings low, with 23.6 million people tuning in last year to see the South Korean thriller “Parasite” win best picture, a 20% plunge from the year prior. In just four years, the Oscars broadcast has seen nearly half of its advertiser-coveted viewers vanish.
Despite the challenges of pulling off live TV events in pandemic times, Rita Ferro, president, ad sales, Disney, says the delayed timing of the Oscars not only gave viewers more time to watch the nominated films—and from the comfort of their own homes—but also "paved the way for even more activations, and enabled us to expand are ad offering for sponspors."
Ferro added that this year's show includes marketers in apparel, auto, beverage, consumer packaged goods, entertainment, financial services, health care, insurance, pet care, pharmaceutical, retail, technology, telecom and tourism.
The big question is once the world emerges from COVID, will award shows recover or is it too late for viewers to regain interest?
“We don’t know the answer to that, but there is some potential for that bounce back,” Horizon’s Campanelli says.
“Come next year, when people are back in the audience and there is a build up and the Oscars are back in their normal time slot, I think we will see a rebound,” says Michael Law, president, Dentsu’s Amplifi.
The return of red carpets and celebrity buzz that comes along with them can also help reignite appeal, says Carrie Drinkwater, chief investment officer, Mediahub.
It’s worth noting that ABC does not guarantee a certain audience level for Oscars ad buys, so it does not have to offer any make-goods on audience deficiency.
But even if audience declines perpetuate, these platforms could still remain attractive due to the types of audiences they attract and their engagement with the content, Drinkwater says, calling out things like social conversation and brand recall in these types of environments.
The idea of looking beyond just eyeballs and at business results is indicative of how brands are re-thinking their broader TV buys. The use of data to not only target specific audiences, but also measure if those viewers actually took an action like visited a website, has become a larger part of TV dealmaking in recent years.
“Maybe we are not reaching the same amount of people, but are we reaching the right people?” Drinkwater says. “We need to think about different metrics.”