Heading into the weekend, ABC can feel proud of itself for selling out so quickly.
With regard to Oscar airtime, that is. As of a few weeks ago, the network had booked a full slate of advertisers for Sunday's 79th Annual Academy Awards telecast, with 30-second spots selling for a maximum $1.7 million apiece, a slight up-tick from last year's $1.6 million.
Those aren't $2.6 million Super Bowl numbers, mind you, but it shows that no matter who's hosting, who's nominated or who's wearing what, the Oscars is the only annual television event that rivals the NFL championship as far as Madison Avenue is concerned.
Actually, this year's Academy Awards sold out faster than the Super Bowl on CBS, which was still trying to plug holes in its commercial lineup just a few days before the game. ABC, meanwhile, even has a waiting list going.
So, what is it about Hollywood's biggest night that has brands such as Pepsi, Coca-Cola, American Express and General Motors clamoring for multiple 30-second spots less than a month after dropping many wads of cash to advertise during the Super Bowl? (MasterCard, in fact, decided to forego the pigskin this year, and instead is launching a new Priceless campaign with help from the little gold man.)
The fact that Emmy favorite Ellen DeGeneres is hosting and that this year's nominated films are pretty packed with star power, both in front of and behind the camera, plays a part, of course, as there is always marginal ad revenue that will ebb and flow according to the overall buzz created by who's going to be walking the red carpet.
But regardless of pre-ceremony chatter, ABC is raking in the millions once again for a variety of reasons.
First of all, even in the YouTube/TiVo era, the Oscars, like the Super Bowl, remains a marquee television event—it's regularly watched by tens of millions of people, the majority of whom want to watch it live and are tuning in because they're genuinely interested in the broadcast's subject matter, be it film, A-listers or evening wear.
"Just the level of interest that people bring to the television set, I think advertisers feel that there's a halo effect or rub-off effect on their commercials," Jon Swallen, senior VP of research for TNS Media Intelligence, told E! Online. "It's an increasingly rare event to have these kinds of tent-pole programs that can bring in large numbers of viewers."
According to a TNS study on Academy Awards advertising trends over the past 12 years, the Oscars has had a 77 percent retention rate among deep-pocket advertisers, higher than the Super Bowl (62 percent) or the World Series (67 percent).
That level of loyalty is due in part to the unparalleled environment the Oscars provides. Not only is glam the name of the game, but with fewer minutes-per-hour devoted to commercials than during the Super Bowl, advertisers have more time to shine and have a better chance at category exclusivity.
For instance, the only cosmetics brand you're going to get a glimpse of Sunday night is L'Oréal, which will air multiple spots featuring Andie MacDowell, Heather Locklear, Natalie Imbruglia and Milla Jovovich.
Similarly, GM has also bought up three and a half minutes of ad time and will be the sole vehicular sponsor this weekend (good luck trying that come Super Bowl time). The Detroit automaker will be pushing its Cadillac and Saturn makes at what Swallen calls Oscar's "demographically desirable audience," which is largely composed of upwardly mobile females.
"Women actually have more influence on the purchase of a vehicle than men do," Ryndee Carney, manager of advertising communications for GM, told the Los Angeles Times.
(GM will also re-air its depressed-robot spot, which has been revamped since drawing criticism from a suicide-prevention group after its premiere during the Super Bowl.)
While last year's ceremony pulled in 39 million viewers (60 percent female, 40 percent male, per Mediamark Research), a 3 million-strong drop-off from 2005, ABC was quick to point out that the 2006 telecast was the highest-rated Oscar ceremony among people aged 18-49 who raked in more than $100,000 a year, had graduated college and were employed in a professional or managerial post.
In other words, people with money to burn.
Overall, ABC has locked up 17 brands for 49 spots, some of which, like Coca-Cola, sent a hot-pink can of Tab trotting across the red carpet last year, will capitalize on Oscar's glam quotient.
This year Coke is premiering a spot featuring an unseen celebrity who refuses to go onstage until she gets her Diet Coke fix.
Other brands are looking to cash in on the evening's creativity factor.
MasterCard, which is launching a campaign to tout its new PayPass service as well as steer viewers to its priceless.com Website, tapped My Left Foot director Jim Sheridan to direct a whimsical 60-second spot that features an elephant that heads to town to get provisions for an under-the-weather zookeeper.
How much does it cost to have an elephant take care of you? "Priceless."
Then, in keeping with the creative aspect of Oscar night, you can go to the Priceless site to watch other vignettes featuring film critic Gene Shalit, Arrested Development's David Cross, NFL star Vinny Testaverde and others making use of their MasterCard.
"The Super Bowl is about shock value," Chris Jogis, VP of U.S. brand marketing for MasterCard, told Advertising Age last week. "Our advertising is about inspiring people. Our ads are all about emotion, and we can share the cinematic effort."
Microsoft is getting cinematic, as well, buying up two 15-second spots and one 30-second spot that will comprise a single narrative.
Other brands on board are Masterfoods (whose ads will probably not feature two guys kissing over a Snickers bar), McDonalds, Pepsi, AT&T, Kodak, American Express (minus DeGeneres, because the Academy doesn't allow commercials that feature people involved in the telecast—and no movie ads whatsoever, either), Dove, Olay, CareerBuilder, Mars and Bank of America.