February 26, 2008
Buzz, UGC, and Advertising at the Oscars (1 of 2)

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how advertising rates and viewership for the Super Bowl have changed over time, and mused a little bit on how to draw viewers into the ads during other major telecasts. Watching Sunday's broadcast of the 80th Academy Awards, even though I'm very interested in advertising, I realized that I really wasn't thinking about, or watching for, the commercials. I asked my friends why we don't look at Oscar ads as such a big deal. Everyone shrugged.

So, I began to wonder why.

The Oscars would seem to be another ideal "TiVo proof" broadcast, it airs just a few weeks after the Super Bowl, causes some intense speculation and review of the season's plays before the big day, and is apparently worthy of social events like the small gathering I was a part of on Sunday night. According to an article published by The New York Times about 2 weeks ago, advertisers are actually treating the Oscars like another Super Bowl, showing mostly new ads and shelling out $1.6 million for a 30-second spot.

There were also familiar elements from Super Bowls past. Like the 2007 Super Bowl Doritos campaign, the Oscars this year featured some user generated content (UGC) spots for the Dove Cream Oil Body Wash Contest, which ran from December to January, and offered viewers a chance to text their vote in for the best spot among the five finalists, shown throughout the broadcast, with an announcement of the winner near the end of the program.

There was also a quirky MasterCard commercial announcing the launch of a new contest, that caught my attention for the production values, 60-second length, and our collective feeling that it was a strange and slightly confusing choice for that particular advertiser.

Part of the answer may be that the stakes are lower in terms of costs and viewership. The price of an Oscar ad this year was around $1.6 million, 40% less than the $2.7 million they would have paid for a SuperBowl spot.

Unlike the Super Bowl, the viewership for the Oscars has been in decline for several years, certainly long before the writer's strike. Last year nearly 40.2 million people watched the broadcast, 43% fewer than the approximately 93.2 million who watched the Super Bowl in 2007. It's not small potatoes in today's TV climate, but it's not anywhere near the same scale as the Super Bowl.

Another factor is, no matter what the intent was, the ads during the Oscars just weren't as interesting as the ones that aired during the Super Bowl a few weeks ago. Other than the MasterCard ad, none of them stood out in my mind for being particularly good or bad. There were the same general categories, minus beer and the dot coms, similar themes, a couple of new products, but little outstanding creative around them. It didn't help that the broadcast itself lacked the energy and drama of previous years.

Perhaps most importantly, there just isn't the same hype around Oscar ads. Part of this is probably tradition, stemming to at least two decades of expectation from the audience and the prestige for advertisers and their agencies of creating a spot. Obviously, this is difficult to recreate in a short period of time, and the Oscars may be at a disadvantage by airing just three weeks after the Super Bowl, also an very difficult thing to change. The Oscar audience is 40% smaller than the Super Bowl's, but probably even less attentive during the commercial breaks.

I'll include more of my observations in a follow-up post later today.

Unfortunately, comments are still down on the blog, but please send me your comments at eleanor@sloan.mit.edu.