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.
The arrivals hoopla should build buzz for GM's greener offerings, says Dino Bernacchi, director of marketing alliances and branded entertainment. "Half the battle is awareness, just getting people to know what the offerings are."
GM made a similar offer last year, using fewer cars, and among stars who took it up on green-machine rides: Jennifer Hudson, Leonardo DiCaprio, Will Ferrell and Cate Blanchett.
•Mars. Oscar-themed print ads built pre-show publicity for M&M's. Ads in entertainment magazines such as Star, In Touch and People showed caricatures of singer Joey Fatone and actress Lisa Rinna as M&M characters. They will host a red carpet show on the TV Guide Channel and interview arriving celebrities, and M&M's will run an ad in the show.
NEW & NOTABLE
Pei Wei's big adventure.
Guess who ranks as America's highest-rated "quick service" chain. It's not Wendy's. Not Panera Bread. Not even In-N-Out Burger, the cult favorite from California that had ranked No. 1 for four years running.
It's Pei Wei.
Pei Wei is an Asian quick-service chain that cooks food fresh in woks. The sister company to P.F. Chang's China Bistro is still regional — just 153 units in 21 states — but topped all 137 other fast-food and fast-casual chains in the annual Sandelman & Associates survey of 84,000 quick-service customers, CEO Bob Sandelman says. Consumers view it as a "cut above" other fast-casual restaurants, he says. Some also view it as expensive, however: The average check is $9.
How will Pei Wei celebrate? "Maybe we'll take everyone out — to Pei Wei," says Laura Cherry, spokeswoman for Pei Wei and P.F. Chang's.
Who won't be celebrating: McDonald's and Burger King. They tied for last place.
Makes us green.
Just when you thought it was safe to reach way back in the freezer and pull out something cold to eat, along comes the PickleSickle.
Yup. A frozen treat made from 100% pickle juice. "We realize it is hard to imagine," concedes David Millar, co-founder of PickleSickle. "But once people try them, they are hooked."
The company is even offering PickleSickles flavored with cherry and lemon-lime. Can't wait to pucker up? You can order a pack of 16 for $17.95 at www.picklesickle.com. No, pregnant women don't get a discount.
Isn't it ironic.
Paradoxes abounded at a posh YouTube advertiser event that took place in a gritty New York City neighborhood last week. Some examples:
•The video site wants to be more accessible to blue-chip marketers but set the confab at a difficult-to-access venue on the far west side of Manhattan.
•YouTube wants marketing pros to spend lots of advertising money on its site, but those ads can't look expensive. "The ads that do best share the user-generated look and feel," says Dave Eun, vice president of content partnerships at YouTube parent Google. If the ads are too slick, "It comes off like The Man is trying to sell you something." (Which he is.)
•A sign at the event's entrance read: "Please, no photography or videotaping during event." YouTube acknowledged the incongruity of that ban with a note at the bottom of the sign: "Ironic isn't it."
Here's to beer.
Brewer Guinness has a new tongue-in-cheek, or beer-in-hand, campaign to get Congress to make its biggest sales day — St. Patrick's Day — an officially recognized federal holiday. Ads for the effort begin next Monday and show how other holiday icons, such as Abe Lincoln, would feel about the party day becoming a holiday. Website proposition317.com launched last week to gather a million virtual signatures for a petition to make St. Pat's a legal holiday. As of Friday, more than 970,800 signatures had been added.
Life's a Journey (and so is love).
Blake Humphrey and Jackie Rohner of Rock Island, Ill., spent Valentine's Day at the Chicago Auto Show — getting married.
In a Dodge promotion, the happy couple won a 2009 Dodge Journey crossover SUV and an all-expenses-paid Valentine's Day wedding for 100 — on the floor of the show. They won for an essay about their "adventurous" life that they entered in the Chrysler brand's "Journey of a Lifetime" contest.
The package included the wedding dress and cake, flowers and a band. In keeping with the theme, the band played songs by the group Journey, including Open Arms.
Dodge bills the Journey as the perfect crossover to help folks "cross over" from single to married life.
On Super Tuesday, as the media and politicians counted votes, Svedka vodka was busy playing up the "party" in politics. It launched a website advocating putting its "fembot" spokescharacter in charge of the country.
The well-endowed Terminator-like character entices visitors to FembotInTheWhitehouse.com to send messages to friends — or their real candidate of choice — by eCard.
Among the message choices:
•Make cocktails, not war.
•Swing voters have more fun.
•Help end global warming, add more ice.
•No cocktail left behind.
Among the real candidates, Barack Obama is in the lead, currently getting 37% of the Svedka messages sent to real candidates.
ASK THE AD TEAM
Q: Who does the voice for the Scotts lawn care ads? I see the ads often on PBS' American Experience and it sounds a lot like Donald Sutherland.
A: Donald Sutherland has done a lot of commercials, including a current ad for Coca-Cola's Simply Apple juice, but he is not the voice of Scotts. It is Jamie Hanes who has 20 years of commercial credits in addition to his theatrical career. Ad clients include Sprint from 1993 to 1998, during the Candice Bergen campaign, and about a hundred other marketers. He also has been a staff announcer for CBS and ABC and done promos for other networks and cable channels.
"I've been fired by everybody," he says.
Add one more to the list, sort of. After eight years of the same campaign, Scotts is moving on to a new campaign in April. Hanes has been the voice of reason in lawn care, but new ads are about living the green life in your own backyard.
Q: Who is the guy portraying "Sven" in the AT&T smartphone commercials? I know that I am not the only one wondering as I have seen this question posted on several message boards.
A: Frederik Hiller, 38, is Sven. In the ads, the Swede plays a very personal assistant to a family, updating them with the weather forecast and stock quotes and generally keeping the home running smoothly. The message is that the next best thing to your own Sven is the smartphone. Hiller's film credits include leading the Frisians in the start-studded epic Beowulf v