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At first blush, it might seem like odd ad placement-a spot promoting awareness of Alzheimer's disease set amid Oscar gold and Hollywood glitter.

But given the demographic direction of the ABC's annual telecast of the Academy Awards, the strategy makes more sense.

The Oscar perennials are ready to roll for tonight's broadcast of the 67th annual gala, the Revlons and Lee jeans that are trying to reach what's for them a nearly unbeatable mass audience. Also on board are blue chip companies like American Express Co., AT&T, Coca-Cola Co., Eastman Kodak Co. and General Motors Corp.

And then there's Parke-Davis.

The Warner-Lambert Co.-owned pharmaceutical company is using the Oscars to break a national campaign focusing on Alzheimer's disease, an ailment that affects the memory of its sufferers.

The spot, one of several major campaigns breaking in the telecast, doesn't tout a particular product but offers an 800-number for information on Alzheimer's FamilyCare, a medical service for patients on Cognex, a Parke-Davis drug for treating the disease. The spot was created by WPP Group's S.U.N. Health-Core unit, New York.

Parke-Davis is primarily seeking to reach older Americans afflicted with the disease, their spouses and their adult children.

"These older Americans have the most mind-ravaging illness of our time," said Michael Morales, VP-central nervous system disease management at Parke-Davis.

But the media buy may reflect an unsettling audience shift that has taken place in the annual ABC telecast during the past few years.

"The Academy Awards have been getting older over the past five, six, seven years," said Steve Sternberg, senior VP-director of broadcast research at Bozell's BJK&E Media Group, New York.

Mr. Sternberg said ABC has taken steps to halt the aging of the Oscar telecast's audience.

"Having a host like David Letterman could bring in audiences that would not normally watch the Academy Awards," he said, "and it probably would not alienate the core audience of the Academy Awards."

"That's our hope," said Mark Zakarin, senior VP-marketing and concept specials at ABC. "My guess is that David Letterman is probably No. 1 in appeal to 18-to-34-year-olds. [Past Oscar hosts] Billy Crystal is huge and Whoopi Goldberg is not chopped liver, but Letterman seems to bring the 18-to-34 demographic."

He'd better. That's what Oscar TV advertisers are expecting and they're paying $685,000 per 30-second unit to get it.

At that rate, the Oscars are the second most expensive regularly scheduled event on network TV. At $1.1 million per :30, the Super Bowl is still the top.

And don't consign the Oscars to the senior set just yet. In its ability to draw viewers, the Oscars take a back seat to no one, except the Super Bowl.

The Super Bowl delivers more viewers and is a much more efficient buy in reaching people. Nielsen Media Research estimates for the 1994 Super Bowl and Academy Awards telecasts reveal that the $21.96 cost to reach every thousand TV households via the Oscars telecast is about a $1 per thousand more expensive than the Super Bowl's CPM of $20.99.

The Oscars look better when it comes to female viewers, at $42.81 to reach every 1,000 women ages 18 to 49, vs. $41.89 for the Super Bowl. To reach men 18 to 49, the Oscars' CPM is more than twice that of the Super Bowl: $74.56 vs. $33.88.

For many marketers, the Oscars aren't just about tonnage and demographics, but about an unsurpassed programming environment.

"It's the most glamorous night of the year, and Revlon is all about glamor," said Allyn Seid-man, senior VP-public relations.

In fact, this year marks the 21st consecutive year that Revlon has advertised on the event.

ABC and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences maintain policies about what ad categories are appropriate for the Oscars telecast, partly to maintain the prestige aspect of the event, which is sold out nearly a year in advance and always at record ad rates.

So how did Parke-Davis find a role?

ABC said it managed to squeeze in by buying a unit from one of the major multiple-unit incumbents that needed to relinquish a :30.

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