The end of the TV writers' strike cleared the way for the Oscars, so marketers that had hitched their wagons to the stars are breathing sighs of relief.
The Academy Awards are a massive marketing stage, and not just for companies that shelled out an average $1.8 million for each 30 seconds of commercial time in the ABC telecast on Sunday. It is a prime opportunity to generate buzz before and after the awards are handed out as well.
"The Oscars are a significant event," says Jon Swallen, senior vice president of research at TNS Media Intelligence. "There's a lot of collateral advertising beyond the broadcast."
Marketers were on edge as the three-month strike dragged on and it appeared increasingly likely the Oscars would suffer the same truncated fate as the Golden Globes. In January, the Globes imploded from an extravaganza of glitz to a lame "news conference" because of the conflict between the Writers Guild of America and studios, and stars' refusal to cross picket lines.
Beyond marketers who use in-show ads to launch campaigns, products and contests, there are a host of others that don't buy ad time — from magazines such as People and Entertainment Weekly to fashion designers who get their creations seen on the red carpet — but have products and tie-ins that depend on the event's hoopla.
"Having the awards go forward in their usual format is a victory for more than just ABC and ABC's advertisers," Swallen says.
But one ABC advertiser had more riding on the broadcast than most marketers: Unilever's Dove brand.
Looking to capitalize on the fact that the Oscars' about 40 million viewers are typically 60% female, Dove built an online contest to promote its Cream Oil Body Wash that was to climax with voting by the show's viewers.
Dove asked women to upload their own body-wash commercials at dovecreamoil.com. It got more than 3,500 entries, which were cut to five semifinalists. The top two, decided through online and in-house voting, will air early in the Oscars show. Viewers can then vote via text message or at Oscar.com. The winner will be announced in a later ad break.
"We've been watching the strike quite closely," says Dove marketing director Kathy O'Brien.
Another Unilever brand, Bertolli, also has a big Oscar-related contest. In its ad in the show, celebrity chef Rocco DiSpirito asks consumers to submit videos at BertolliNightsIn.com that describe a romantic night at home. Bertolli will turn the winner's story into a short movie that will get a movie theater premiere.
Bertolli sees the show as an ideal ad venue, since it is a must-see live TV event, says senior marketing director Brian Manning. "The Oscars is one of those rare nights when people make an appointment to stay in and watch television."
Others looking for star power:
•J.C. Penney. Ads will introduce home goods and clothing line American Living, created with Polo Ralph Lauren.
•Coca-Cola. Supermodel Heidi Klum will wear a red dress to the show as part of the "Red Dress" heart-health awareness project by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Viewers can win the Klum dress in a Diet Coke sweepstakes at mycokerewards.com.
•General Motors. GM has made available a fleet of 75 of its eco-friendly vehicles to drop presenters and performers at the red carpet. The rides include the GMC Yukon Hybrid, the zero-emissions Chevy Equinox Fuel Cell and the FlexFuel E85 Yukon, which runs on 85% ethanol.