They gave out Oscars during previous recessions. Heck, they even gave out Academy Awards during each year of the Great Depression.
But the way Madison Avenue is behaving toward the 81st annual Academy Awards, to be broadcast by ABC today [tomorrow Taiwan time], one could be excused for believing that the ceremony was actually for the Razzie Awards, which mock the worst Hollywood movies.
Several Oscar sponsors from last year — among them General Motors, L’Oreal and the Bertolli food line sold by Unilever — are forgoing the program.
Other brands like Philadelphia cream cheese, sold by Kraft Foods, and the Culver’s fast-food chain are running commercials in shows before the ceremony, some on networks like E! rather than ABC.
And many marketers that bought commercial time during the Oscars are behaving as if they had been placed in the witness protection program, declining to identify themselves or discuss their ad plans before the show.
That behavior is of course related to the economy, as consumers change their attitude toward conspicuous displays of spending. Something similar happened before Super Bowl XLIII on Feb. 1 as several sponsors of the NBC coverage toned down or eliminated the pregame publicity for their commercials.
Executives at ABC, part of Walt Disney Co, are taking a cue from the silent sponsors. In recent years, network officials talked to reporters before each show to discuss demand and rates for commercial time. This week, no one from ABC was available for such interviews.
Trade publications have reported that ABC was cutting prices as a result of reduced demand. The sluggishness was partly because of the economy and partly because of the record low ratings for the show last year.
It is estimated that ABC is charging about US$1.4 million to US$1.7 million for each 30 seconds of commercial time on Sunday, or as much as 20 percent less than last year. By comparison, the most recent rates were estimated at US$1.8 million for 2008 and US$1.7 million for 2007.
Still, do not expect to see many public service announcements during the show. The Academy Awards is still prized by many marketers for several reasons, including:
The show is one of the few so-called big TV events each year that viewers still prefer to watch live — commercials and all.
“It’s awards. It’s the red carpet; we’re absolutely happy we’re there,” said Carolyn Resar, vice president for marketing at TTI Floor Care North America in Glenwillow, Ohio, part of Techtronic Industries.
The company’s Hoover brand will make its first Oscar appearance with a spot by the Martin Agency in Richmond, Virginia, part of the Interpublic Group of Companies. The humorous spot promotes a line of six new products called the Hoover Platinum Collection.
As more of the prime-time TV schedule is turned over to reality series, which many advertisers disdain for their questionable or even sketchy content, the Academy Awards remains an appealing venue for blue-chip brands that want to be associated with programming they consider prestigious.
“It’s a great environment for us,” said Kevin McKeon, partner and executive creative director at the New York office of StrawberryFrog. The agency produced three commercials for the show for the True North line of nuts sold by the Frito-Lay division of PepsiCo.