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Mar 03 2011

SHOOT - Commercials For Oscar Telecast Hardly Award Worthy


HOLLYWOOD, Calif., March 03, 2011, A SHOOT Staff Report --- While the price of a :30 ad time slot for this past Sunday's Academy Awards telecast on ABC increased to an average of some $1.7 million, there was sadly no concurrent raising of the creative bar for this year's crop of Oscar commercials. That was the consensus of agency creatives and marketers surveyed by SHOOT.

For the most part, the spots weren't new. There were assorted reruns of commercials that debuted on the Super Bowl or the Grammy Awards telecasts. And a fair share of the spots sponsoring the Oscar show dated back to last year.

Among those daring to be different and premiering commercials on Academy Awards night were LivingSocial, JCPenney, Dove, Coca-Cola and Hyundai. The latter two advertisers ran a mix of new and old spots.

Over the years, the Oscar telecast has been described in advertising terms as the Super Bowl for women. That tag, though, might be less on target today as the Super Bowl itself has an ever increasing female audience. And while commercials are an integral part of the Super Bowl experience, generating online buzz and water-cooler talk at the office the next day, they hold no such stature for Academy Awards viewers. Furthermore, if the Super Bowl is a good game with the outcome not decided until late in the fourth quarter, eyeballs stay peeled. By contrast, there's a tendency for audience to drift in and out of the Oscar telecast due to its inherent nature, perhaps best captured by the late, great Johnny Carson one of the years when he served as host. He welcomed the audience to the Academy Awards which he wittily described as a show packing 90 minutes of pure entertainment into three-and-a-half hours.

Still, even though major market Nielsens were down slightly as compared to 2010, the number of television viewers numbered some 37 million for this year's Academy Awards. That's a mega audience, particularly in today's fragmented audience landscape. Thus the Oscars represent a major opportunity for sponsors to get their messages across to the public at large.

However, most advertisers didn't capitalize on that opportunity, according to respondents to our aforementioned survey. Here's a sampling of their feedback:

Kathy Delaney, chief creative officer, North America, SapientNitro (New York)
Overall the hosts were awkward which had me dying to get to the commercial breaks. That being said, I was disappointed by what I saw during those breaks. In a venue like this, something as glitzy and loud as the Oscars, commercials either need to scream louder conceptually or whisper quietly to get noticed. Instead a lot of the spots fell somewhere in the middle and got lost. Everyone seemed to be speaking in mid-tones, nothing popped out as amazing and different. I applaud JCPenney for sponsoring the Oscars year after year and reaching out to women. I like their new tagline. However, I wish the advertising was fresher and more exciting. I thought the Best Buy attempt was interesting, at least trying to engage people by asking them to pick their own ending for the [Justin Bieber, Ozzy Osbourne] commercial. There was an attempt to attain an engagement level, which is more than a lot of the other commercials did. I thought the Hyundai iPad commercial was a little strange. The whole commercial was an app. It came off as trying too hard to say that they were contemporary and cool. Overall, nothing really swayed me. This could be a fantastic advertising venue but that potential wasn't realized this year.

Michelle Edelman, president and lead strategist, NYCA (Solana Beach, Calif.)
The Academy Awards are a television event. The way we're starting to look at media at NYCA is its event level. You would think more brands would have put more thought into making their ads more of an event--to match the Oscars event. It surprised me that there weren't more debut-type advertisements on the Academy Awards.

Still there was worthwhile work. When I didn't hear Jeff Bridges' voice on the first Hyundai spot, I thought, "Oh my God, what are they doing?" That reaction underscores what voice talent can really mean for TV commercials. My Hyundai experience has been tied to his voice. Why was somebody else telling me about Hyundai? Then I realized that they couldn't use Bridges because of Motion Picture Academy rules. [Those rules applied because Bridges was an Oscar nominee.] As a result, I listened to every one of those Hyundai spots. I liked the way they found the right voice for the content of each spot--Richard Dreyfuss talking about teenagers having messy rooms. Then I heard Jason Bateman in another spot. So Hyundai took a drawback--losing Bridges' voice--and turned it into something interesting by casting for each individual spot which proved to be entertaining and in the mood of a theatrical performance. They showed that there is a way to take an existing campaign and give it an Oscar makeover. Meanwhile, a women's brand I was really watching was Dove because I worked on that account when I was at Ogilvy before coming to NYCA. I thought they did the best job of all the advertisers of pushing you to do something else. And by doing that, they were saying, "we're doing something else." Dove gave viewers a chance to be on Dancing With The Stars. To get that chance and be the lucky winner, viewers had to take action. They couldn't just sit back. I'm still trying to figure out what I thought of JCPenney. I'm glad they debuted new commercials, that they respected the event and the chance to connect with women. At the same time, I felt their spots were a mash-up between the star power advertising of Macy's and the old "Softer Side of Sears" work. In that kind of mash-up, the question becomes, "Where is the JCPenney in that?" There was some great advertising that wound up on the Oscars but it wasn't work that debuted. I liked, for example, the AT&T ad where orange is blooming everywhere, showing the reach and blossoming of their coverage.

I think the new LivingSocial ads helped people feel good about the product category. That was needed because the earlier ads for Groupon [LivingSocial's competition] on the Super Bowl were offensive. What I'm not sure of is the need to explain what companies like Groupon and LivingSocial are. Maybe they have market research to the contrary but I think people know and understand these buying services. LivingSocial is spending too much time in their commercials trying to explain itself. It's like the early Expedia and Travelocity ads telling us we can book travel online while in our pajamas. The LivingSocial ads on the Academy Awards were creatively artistic but they could have gone further with an advertising idea, not just explaining what the company does. I thought the ABC promos for its TV shows were for the most part quite good, and better than what many of the outside advertisers did for the Oscars. Again, the Oscars are supposed to be about the best entertainment we've seen all year. Agencies and clients should have taken that more to heart and upped the ante creatively.

Carolyn Hadlock, executive creative director, Young & Laramore (Indianapolis, IN)
I thought the night was really flat. There was a lot of stuff that had run on the Super Bowl or the Grammys. But there was nothing that took your breath away like the "imported

from Detroit" Chrysler ad on the Super Bowl. There was nothing that struck a responsive chord like "The Force" ad for Volkswagen on the Super Bowl. The Hyundai iPad ad in my opinion was the best one of the night. It had a point, a concept and was well done. It almost seemed that there was a focus on integrated campaigns, the social media component yet the centerpiece TV spot fell flat. Venus getting Jennifer Lopez as spokesperson was a big win. They pushed all this content and PR out. The package looked good but the TV advertising wasn't that powerful. No matter how good your celebrity social media vehicles are, you still need an amazing commercial. Similarly, JCPenney made a huge digital push with different stories. But the commercials on the Oscar telecast looked like the commercials I've seen from JCPenney the past five years. There was a new logo, a new tagline, but the ads didn't feel new. It felt like the same old fashion models in urban settings. Best Buy ran the same ad it had on the Super Bowl but added the element of letting consumers do a new last line. But a new last line does not a new spot make. Again, there was a push for consumer engagement, but the commercial itself wasn't engaging nor was it new. At the end of the day, the commercial is the centerpiece and has to be the best thing about the campaign program. And even with consumer engagement appearing to be a priority, the Twitter action on the Oscars contained little talk about the commercials. During and after the Super Bowl, people were tweeting about ads. The Oscars failed to generate anything close to that dynamic. For the de facto female Super Bowl, viewers bring a certain expectation that the creative bar for ads should be higher, that there would be more new ads customized for the Academy Awards--but there weren't. There were no Oscar-worthy commercials.

Lisa Kreienberg, VP, creative director, Partners+Napier (Rochester, N.Y.)
Ads are a big part of the Super Bowl. People want to see the ads, talk about the ads. But for the Oscars, the priorities are fashion and film with advertising a far distant third. While you get a large number of eyeballs, I'm not sure that the return on investment is there for $1.7 million. People are leaving the room during the commercial breaks. Not helping matters is that a lot of the ads this year were seen before. There were some exceptions, though. The JCPenney ads were new as the company looked to reposition itself. I thought they did a nice job of trying to elevate their look to viewers. There was a Coke ad in which a woman gets out of a limousine and steps out onto the red carpet--at least that targeted the evening and the audience. But there was nothing of great substance one way or the other. The Oscars are a night of glamour and fashion. Yet besides Dove there weren't a lot of cosmetics of women's products. And what was with that Listerine ad during a night of glamour and fashion? I thought Best Buy did a nice job of trying to extend the reach of its Super Bowl ad, asking viewers how they would like to see Justin and Ozzy interact. It was a nice extension into social marketing. Most of what I saw was pretty mundane. There were a lot of lost opportunities for a night as big as the Oscars.

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