Advertisers Still Prize Oscar

Although buzz is low, ad interest in Academy Awards remains high For all the industry talk that this year's Oscars show won't be a big draw, advertisers still appear enthusiastic. Although the host, Jon Stewart, hails from cable and the nominated films lack blockbuster status, ABC reports that it has sold all of the 48 spots during the show, as well as those for the hour-long pre-show. Spots went for about $1.7 million, up about $100,000 from last year.

Most clients are returning advertisers that booked spots months ago, some during the upfront. But there are newcomers: Coca-Cola is back in a big way after a seven-year absence; Pepsi was the exclusive soft-drink sponsor for the past seven years. In Oscar's biggest promotion ever with a sponsor, Diet Coke paired with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science to promote the show at movie-theater concession stands, in stores and through a commemorative Oscar bottle.

Coke will run two spots during the pre-show and five in the actual broadcast, promoting Diet Coke and its new Tab Energy drink. One spot will include a five-second tag to the company's new online promotion, “My Coke Rewards.” Coke has been promoting an Oscar-themed section of the rewards program, giving away a diamond ring, a designer gown and a trip to next year's show.

Miller will advertise during the Oscars for the first time ever (Anheuser-Busch has been the exclusive beer sponsor for years). It is capitalizing on the show's female skew to unveil a new creative campaign for Miller Genuine Draft: “Beer. Grown Up.”

MGD will run a 30-second spot during the pre-show and a 30- and 60-second spot during the awards—all with voiceovers by actor Edward Norton—portraying the beer as having “mainstream sophistication,” according to Miller spokesperson Peter Marino.

“This campaign does not play into the more traditional, humor-based, guy-focused, laddish lifestyle stuff you've seen in the past,” he says.

Ratings for last year's Oscars show were down about 5% from the year before to an average 41.5 million, and some in the industry have been skeptical that this will improve, as host Stewart's Daily Show audience is a small segment of the TV-viewing population, and Best Picture nominees like Capote, Munich and Brokeback Mountain haven't generated box-office receipts comparable to those of past nominees.

My life, my ad.

Still, many advertisers see opportunity. Both and State Farm are back after having run Oscars ads for the first time in 2005. State Farm bought one spot last year and arranged during upfront season to be the exclusive insurance sponsor this year, with one spot in the pre-show and three during the broadcast.

American Express, which ran three spots during last year's show, will unveil new creative for its “My Life. My Card” campaign.

Other sponsors include AT&T, GM Corp., Kodak, JCPenny, Mastercard, McDonald's and Procter & Gamble.

ABC, which last year renewed its contract to broadcast the show through 2014, has partnered with the Academy more closely than ever to promote the show. While the Academy has been responsible for arranging promotions with such advertisers as Coke and M&Ms, the two worked together on a beefed-up print campaign—including ads for the first time ever in several Condé Nast magazines (including Vanity Fair and The New Yorker), outdoor ads in New York, L.A. and Philadelphia, and ads on Almost all the spots on broadcast and cable have included Stewart and the films' stars, rather than the films themselves.

Amidst the challenges, ABC remains optimistic. “We know [many of the nominated movies] haven't been seen by as many people as we'd like,” says ABC Senior VP of Marketing Mike Benson, “but we have to make the show look as entertaining as possible because we know it will be.”