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Madison Avenue Goes to the Movies to Keep Oscar Viewers From Skipping Ads

People who tune in to ABC’s annual Oscars broadcast do so because of their interest in the movies. So advertisers who interrupted the glitzy ceremony tried to give them more of the same.

Walmart peppered Sunday night’s telecast with commercials highlighting behind-the-camera personnel, while Google used intellectual property from movies such as “Deadpool” and “2001: A Space Odyssey” to keep movie buffs interested in their sundry pitches. Samsung teased Hollywood aficionados with spots for a smartphone it said could take “cinematic” pictures. Watchmaker Rolex featured A-list directors like Martin Scorsese and Kathryn Bigelow.  Even Anheuser-Busch, a company that typically never borrows interest from a celebrity or movie project, tapped movie star Charlize Theron to get viewers to pay attention.

At a time when more viewers have grown accustomed to skipping past commercials with time-shifting technology or not having to encounter them on subscription streaming services like Netflix, Madison Avenue has come under new pressure to devise ads that give consumer more of the content they came to see and less of the annoying, interrupting messages that get in the way of that entertainment. ABC encouraged sponsors to not only launch new commercials that haven’t been seen ad infinitum, but to work to make the ads carry elements of the awards ceremony itself to play off what drew viewers to the broadcast in the first place.  “Sparking moments like that adds to the overall viewing experience,” says Jerry Daniello, senior vice president of entertainment brand solutions for Disney Advertising Sales, in an interview.

Though viewership for any video favorite has been splintered by a dizzying array of digital consumption options, the Oscars telecast is still alluring to Madison Avenue. Marketers need events that draw millions of consumers at a single moment, and for that, at least, the Oscars continues to deliver. IBM ran an ad in the Oscars in 2017, says Ann Rubin, vice president of corporate marketing at IBM, and “according to our brand metrics, it actually worked very well.” The technology company ran a spot featuring influencers, employees and celebrities such as Buzz Aldrin, Mayim Bialik and Ariana Huffington.

Millions of dollars were at stake Sunday evening.  ABC’s broadcast of the Oscars and a red-carpet preview last year drew $149 million, according to Kantar, a tracker of ad spending In 2014, the events sparked $108 million.

To be sure, the Oscars aren’t the Super Bowl. ABC was seeking between $2 million and $3 million for a 30-second ad slot on Sunday’s broadcast of the glitzy awards ceremony, while CBS pressed for between $5.1 million and $5.3 million for the equivalent in its recent telecast of Super Bowl LIII. The numbers don’t compare either. The most recent Super Bowl drew a crowd of 98.2 million TV viewers, according to Nielsen, while last year’s Oscars attracted 27.4 million – a new low.

Even so, where else can a big marketer get a message in front of more than 25 million viewers in a fell swoop? Not during most sitcoms. Not during many dramas. And certainly not during on-demand selections offered by Netflix and Amazon. While the Oscars and other awards programs have lost viewers in recent years, the crowds they go snare are big enough to warrant the extravagant sums required to get on board.

“It’s a great platform to talk about thought-provoking work and thought-provoking ideas,” says Rubin.

Many ads were aimed directly at the Oscars’ female viewership. Nike launched an inspirational commercial narrated by Serena Williams that championed female athletes. General Motors’ Cadillac  also ran an ad depicting women claiming victory at an awards ceremony and in a boxing ring.

And others offered a glimpse of how quickly the entertainment business is changing. Cinema fans were no doubt excited to hear audio outtakes from the coming Martin Scorsese film “The Irishman,” and delighted to hear about a movie that will involve Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, Harvey Keitel and Joe Pesci. They may have been surprised, however, to discover that the movie will be “in theaters this fall,” but also “on Netflix.”

 

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