Oscars Commercials: The Emmys of Advertising

If the Super Bowl is the crown jewel for TV advertising with its $5M price tag per 30-second spot and 113.7M viewers, then the Oscars are a distant second with ABC selling 30-second spots this year for $2M for its 34M viewers.  Still, the Oscars is traditionally the most-watched non-sports event broadcast in the U.S., which is why they’re the most expensive TV buy after the Super Bowl and ABC sold out all of its spots. According to Kantar, only NFL games and Fox’s airing of the final game of the World Series drew more viewers in 2016 than the Oscars.

While Oscars ratings may be declining compared to previous years, advertising demand is up, which has led to the broadcast now offering 45% more network ad time than five years ago.  Per Kantar’s FragmentNation Study, an increasingly fragmented media landscape makes opportunities for advertisers to reach a large and diverse audience particularly valuable, especially programs that will be watched live.  Couple that with the Oscars’ audience that skews more heavily female and metropolitan, tempting demographics for retailers, and you can see why Oscars spots are almost half the cost of Super Bowl spots with only a third the amount of viewers.  John Swallen, chief research officer for Kantar Media calls the viewers a “high-quality audience” and reports many advertisers hope the glamour of the Oscars will rub off on their product.  He further states “it’s a large audience, a live audience and an affluent one –and those are the things that really drive pricing.”

The Oscars is the one of most active events of year on social media, which is also attractive to marketers. In 2016, Kantar reported that 24 million Facebook users generated 67 million posts, likes and comments about the broadcast, and Twitter counted 24 million Tweets about the broadcast.  With so many affluent and digital-savvy viewers looking to have conversation in real-time, it’s important for marketers to develop integrated strategies and staff a social media war room in an effort to convert social discussions into brand interactions.

Case in point, Snickers’ fast-acting and quick-witted social media team upstaged their traditional media counterparts this year by capitalizing on an event mishap ala Oreo’s famous blackout tweet in 2013 from Super Bowl XLVII. Even though Snickers debuted two new TV spots at the Oscars after its live Super Bowl commercial fell flat earlier in the month, it was their timely Twitter post that got the most buzz after the telecast.  Immediately following the wild Best Picture mix-up between La La Land and Moonlight, the Snicker’s social media team joined the millions of social media conversations on the mishap by posting “#EatASNICKERS before you hand out the winning envelope” that was on brand with their “You’re not you when you’re hungry” campaign. Thousands of fans responded that Snickers “won the Oscars.”

Different from the Super Bowl, each local ABC affiliate has Oscars commercial inventory it can sell.  While most attention is focused on the national TV spots, this local air time offers a great strategic way for advertisers to access the event on a market-by-market basis.  For example, ABC has sold the exclusive automobile category to General Motors for the past five years, preventing rival auto companies from airing national spots during the broadcast.  However, Kantar reports that in 2016 auto accounted for 27% of all local ad time, with auto ads appearing in 94 of the 100 ABC markets and the average market airing competing messages from four different auto brands.

Just like we reported in our Super Bowl blog, with today’s Trumped-up political climate providing a broadcast ratings boost, many brands are voicing their stances and well-known brands are advertising at this type of large stage for the first time.  The Oscars are historically a political telecast and the prospect of political acceptance speeches appeared to attract advertisers rather than deter them as ABC sold its last few spots for as much as $2.5M before the telecast –after the Golden Globes and Grammys award shows both saw increases this year in younger viewers paying attention to the issues.

Widely reporter before the telecast, the New York Times aired its first TV ad in seven years, as the 166-year old newspaper looks to highlight independent journalism amid President Donald Trump’s attacks on the media as “fake news.” The New York Times commercial is part of a broader brand campaign, the paper’s first in a decade, that aims to position the newspaper as a reliable outlet in the face of the rise of the “fake news” epidemic.  To say the least, the commercial succeeded in generating conversations and increasing digital subscription after the telecast (per NY Times and Forbes) and Ag Age said to give the commercial an Oscar for its simplicity and staying on brand.

Cadillac debuted four commercials during the Oscars, but it was its “Carry” spot that got all the media attention when it launched before the telecast and after the telecast on social media.  The spot opens with “We. Are. A. Nation. Divided.” but Cadillac states (like Budweiser did before their controversial Super Bowl spot) that the spot is simply the embodiment of the American Dream and not a political statement.   So far the reception has been positive, with very few #boycottcadillac posts appearing.  The same can be said for Hyatt’s “For A World of Understanding” that takes a not-so-subtle jab at President Trump’s travel ban.

Not surprising, it was the brands that embraced the Oscars theme of celebrating storytelling and creativity that got the most praise.  Walmart replaced Kohl’s this year as the exclusive retail category sponsor and they did not disappoint with four commercials, each a short film directed by award-winning directors Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, Antoine Fuqua and Marc Forster, along with a behind-the-scenes spot that aired during the Red Carpet telecast before the awards.  The directors were tasked with each spot only including the same six items from a Walmart receipt, which led Evan Goldberg to say “the only confinement was also the freedom (to make a little mini movie and create anything you want).”

Also new this year was Rolex, whose Oscars sponsorship deal gave them access to the archives of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. That enabled them to produce a beautifully creative spot entitled “Celebrating Cinema,” that shows famous actors with Rolex watches from various memorable movie scenes. Sadly, the spot even included a small scene from Titanic with the recently deceased Bill Paxton whose death was announced only hours before the 2017 Oscar ceremony began.

As we’ve previously reported, the Wireless Wars are in full effect.  After AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile aired attack ads against Verizon on the Super Bowl, Verizon waited to respond by literally dropping the mic in their two Oscars spots that dispelled the other carrier’s Super Bowl claims. As a consumer, it’s been fun to sit back and watch all the carriers battle since it’s means they all have to offer unlimited data now to compete.

Overall, if marketing stakes continue to rise for tentpole live broadcast events, then the Oscars could potentially one day be on par with the Super Bowl which many consider the Oscars of advertising. “It’s a high-profile appointment-viewing television program,” noted David Rubin, senior vice president and head of brand for The New York Times. “We wanted to be in a place where people are watching together, talking together, talking virtually.”

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