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Some Oscars Ads Might Strike a Political Chord

When Hyatt returns to advertising on primetime TV this Sunday night after many years, it will do so during ABC’s Oscars telecast and it will offer a message that might prove soothing to a viewership still polarized by a contentious political election: What the world needs now is love, sweet love.

That refrain, crooned by singer Andra Day, will offer a new view of Hyatt and a new take on the old 1960s Burt Bacharach chestnut. And the ad, crafted by Interpublic Group’s MullenLowe and shot in Spain, Morocco and Thailand and filled with scenes of people of different nationalities helping each other during encounters around the world, might be taken as a prescription for a populace continuing to grapple with issues of culture and race as the Trump administration cracks down on illegal immigrants present in the U.S.

The themes for Hyatt’s spot were in place well before the recent U.S. election, said Maryam Banikarim, Hyatt’s chief marketing officer, in an interview. The spot is part of a launch of a global campaign that aims to burnish the hotelier’s presence in the U.S. as well as places as far as India and China. “It really was about understanding and what understanding can afford people,” she said, while acknowledging the commercial surfaces “in an interesting cultural moment that will force people to look at this in a different light.”

The annual Oscars awards-fest can naturally veer into controversy, as actors, directors and other creatives use their award speeches to call attention to favorite causes or to express outrage. The ads usually provide a tension-free counterpoint by playing up the glamour and luxury that are so much a part of the event. Just as Fox’s recent broadcast of Super Bowl LI featured ads that touched upon themes that struck more of a chord for an audience viewing them through the prism of recent politics, so too might ABC’s telecast of the event.

New York Times Co., a first-time Oscars advertiser, will highlight the need for truthful, independent reporting in a chaotic time. Anheuser-Busch InBev, meanwhile, has tapped actor Matt Damon to highlight a partnership between its Stella Artois and Water.org to provide access to clean water in developing nations. “We can be the generation remembered for ending the global water crisis once and for all,” he says.

Madison Avenue has a reason to stand out during the Oscars. The event typically draws one of TV’s bigger crowds, and the cost of putting a pitch in front of them – last year’s event drew 34.3 million people, an eight-year low – is significant. ABC sought at least $2 million for a 30-second ad in the event, according to media buyers and other people familiar with the tone of negotiations, and even pressed for as much as $2.5 million in some talks. The average price in 2016 hovered around $1.72 million, according to Kantar, a tracker of ad spending, compared with $1.31 million in recession-wracked 2009.

“Live TV is still a place that brings communities together,” said Banikarim.  Having a broad group of viewers was critical to Hyatt’s strategy, she added. “We don’t want people to watch in isolation.” The company will launch a new loyalty program on March 1, and being able to tout its new message in a big-audience event was seen as crucial: The marketer wants viewers who see the spot to “feel like you belong,” she added.

Some advertisers will stay close to more traditional themes of glitz. The Diamond Producers Association intends to air what it says will be a “cinematic story” that burnishes themes of “love, passion and connection.” Others hope to stand out by supporting some of the ancillary content that surrounds the broadcast. AT&T will sponsor a showcase of Oscars “musical moments” on the event’s website and is partnering with NBCUniversal’s E! cable network to deliver concurrent 360-degree feeds of red-carpet action.

No matter the marketing goal, advertisers of all stripes recognize the Oscars TV audience is an increasingly unique one.  “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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