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Oscar Advertisers Pay Big for Glamour, Not New Ads

March 19, 1996

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Without shoo-in winners this year, the Academy Awards show holds the promise of the unexpected _ for roughly 2 1/2 hours.

When it comes to the TV commercials taking up the other 20-plus minutes next Monday, prepare to be unsurprised. Unlike football’s Super Bowl, the Oscar broadcast doesn’t specialize in new and flamboyant pitches.

Advertisers seem to assume it’s enough to show up at the right party with the right person on your arm: When you escort a movie star, the allure rubs off.

``The Academy Awards routinely gets a 30 (Nielsen) rating with the most glamorous environment that anybody’s found for any program on television,″ said Jerry Dominis, a J. Walter Thompson advertising executive.

But not spiffy new commercials to match.

This year, we’ll get six Chevrolet ads we’ve seen before. Six Coca-Cola ads we’ve seen before. And commercials from eight other sponsors, including AT&T, Eastman-Kodak and Revlon, we’ll likely have seen before.

Which is not to say these advertisers stroll blithely into the premier awards shows and what is, after the Super Bowl, the second-highest rated program of the year.

ABC is charging $795,000 for each of the 43 half-minute spots to air during the live 9 p.m. EST broadcast, hosted by Whoopi Goldberg and honoring the best movies of 1995.

That represents a 16 percent hike over last year’s $685,000-per-30-second fee and is part of a consistent increase in Oscar ad rates _ despite the fact audiences that haven’t grown accordingly.

Last year’s 32.5 average rating translated to about 31 million viewers; the year before, the show drew about 29 million viewers. Those figures represent a slow climb out of the cellar, the bleak years of the mid- to late-80s when Oscar viewership slumped.

Despite that, advertisers seem reluctant to miss out on an event that delivers a more mixed audience than the male-dominated Super Bowl, with a large pool of the 18- to 49-year-old women valued by such sponsors as Revlon cosmetics.

And they get a nearly perfect advertising environment _ a frothy, sexy event which, aside from the occasional political harangue, is predictably non-threatening.

`` `ER’ is the No. 1 series in America,″ says Dominis. ``It does a 24, close to a 25 rating (but), by the way, it’s not always the most appetizing environment a program could have. There’s misery, people die.″

The Oscar spots sold out 10 months ago, said ABC’s Bob Cagliero, executive vice president for sales.

``Generally, we get renewals from almost everybody,″ he said.

In fact, advertisers almost can’t afford to opt out of Oscar: Access to the commercial spots goes first to previous sponsors. Newcomers, like this year’s Pizza Hut and Frito-Lay, wiggle in only when someone drops out.

And, on occasion, they do. Lee Jeans, for instance, won’t be back this year. The clothing maker bought Oscar spots in 1994 with high hopes for host David Letterman and as part of an overall ad campaign targeting big-event programs.

Although some critics sneered at Letterman’s performance, he was a hit with Lee. He drew more of the young viewers Lee was eager to reach, said Harish Bhandari of ad agency Fallon McElligott, which created the spots.

``We got a bonus because of Letterman,″ Bhandari said.

One category of advertisers viewers won’t be seeing: movies. Under an academy rule, film ads are banned from the broadcast. They can, however, pop up during ABC’s Oscar-night celebrity interview special hosted by Barbara Walters.

The luckiest films get a free plug courtesy of a Walters interview.

Richard Dreyfuss, a best-actor nominee for ``Mr. Holland’s Opus,″ is set for a heart-to-heart with the newswoman. And Demi Moore, star of the upcoming ``Striptease″ from Turner Broadcasting’s Castle Rock Entertainment, is another Walters’ guest.

From the studio’s viewpoint, ``it’s 20 minutes of free advertising,″ Castle Rock executive Jim Fredrick told the trade paper Variety.

And that beats $795,000 for an eye-blink 30 seconds any time.

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