At $20,000 a second, advertising around Oscar is a big investment

March 29, 1993|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Advertising AgeTelevision Critic

It's big, it's special and, most of all, it's watched by lots of women and baby boomers.

Those are some of the reasons the Oscar telecast is second only to the Super Bowl when it comes to launching new products and advertising campaigns. And that's why tonight's 65th Annual Academy Awards show with host Billy Crystal (on Channel 13 at 9) is the second most lucrative TV event of the year.

Frito-Lay will launch a new line of snack chips. Coca-Cola will roll out new ads produced by film directors Rob Reiner and Richard Donner. There will also be new spots for Lee jeans, Revlon cosmetics, JCPenney and American Express.

Each advertiser is paying $600,000 per 30 seconds for the right to market its products amid the glamour of Hollywood.

That's less than the Super Bowl ad time, which sold for $850,000 per 30 seconds on Jan. 31. It is also less than the final episode of "Cheers," scheduled for May 20, with spots now selling for $650,000. But it's more than everything else on TV; the nearest competitor is "Murphy Brown," which gets $325,000 per 30 seconds, according to the trade magazine Advertising Age.

"We think it's worth it," said Stephen Liguori, vice president for marketing at Frito-Lay, which will introduce Doritos Tortilla Thins, a snack chip targeted at baby boomers.

Frito-Lay is spending $2.4 million for two 60-second spots.

"If you're going to do something big in the marketplace, you want to try and catch a big venue to get the most number of consumers to see and hear what you're talking about," Liguori said. "And second to the Super Bowl comes the Academy Awards."

Past Nielsen ratings show the Oscar telecast attracts 45 million viewers, while the Super Bowl is watched by 60 million. Last year, one of every two TV sets in use on Oscar night was tuned to the telecast.

But you don't pay the kind of money Frito-Lay and the others are paying just for bulk numbers. The demographics of that audience are also important. In the case of Frito-Lay, it's the age demographics that are attractive.

"This is very much [a] show for the masses, but probably the core audience is baby boomers -- thirtysomething into the fortysomething crowd," Liguori said. "This is the bull's-eye target for our new product. . . . So, the Oscars is a great buy for us. It's big and it's also targeted."

While it's age demographics for Frito-Lay, it's gender demographics that make the Oscars such an attractive show for some of the other advertisers.

As much as two-thirds of tonight's TV audience is expected to be women, based on past Nielsen figures. Women, in general, watch more network TV than men by a ratio of almost 2-to-1.

Given an audience of two-thirds women, it's not hard to see why Revlon has been with the show the longest. Revlon will be one of the biggest spenders in advertising dollars, according to Mediaweek magazine. Revlon and Coca-Cola will each spend $3.6 million tonight.

Like, Frito-Lay, Revlon finds a twofold appeal in the telecast. Not only does it deliver a huge audience of women, but it allows Revlon to advertise its cosmetics in a glamorous environment, thanks to all the film stars on hand.

"That's the appeal of the Oscars for an advertiser like Revlon," said Neil Alperstein, who teaches advertising and popular culture at Loyola College in Baltimore.

Alperstein said advertising on a show like the Oscars can create a connection in the viewer's mind between program and product.

"It's seen [by the viewer as] a special product because it's part of a special evening, like the Oscars," Alperstein said. "The show provides a kind of context for the product."

For JCPenney, which will be advertising spring and summer apparel, the context is clothes for an audience of baby-boomer women who make most of the decisions about family clothing purchases. Lee has the same demographics in mind.

For Coca-Cola, there are several connections. Perhaps the strongest is between Coke and Oscar as classics and icons.

The theme of Coke as an enduring part of viewers' lives will be sounded in a new ad tonight titled "Real Things Last." Created by film director Rob Reiner ("A Few Good Men"), the ad "traces a couple who enjoy Coke over the course of their lives from very young to retirement age," according to Randy Donaldson, a spokesman for Coke. And it covers those lives in 30 seconds.

All told, ABC will rake in about $25 million in advertising tonight during the show. And advertisers, like Frito-Lay, are happy to have the chance to be in the game at the rate of $20,000 a second.

Although Oscar ad rates have risen steadily in recent years -- up 33 percent from 1990 when 30 seconds sold for $450,000 -- the telecast has been sold out for months.

"We bought this time back in August," Frito-Lay's Liguori said. "The minute it was offered to us. . . . This kind of a launch on Oscar night isn't something we thought of a few weeks ago."

For what it's worth

Shows... ... ... ... ... .Ad rates

... ... ... ... ... ... .(30 sec.)

1.Super Bowl... ... ... .$850,000

2.Final episode... ... . $650,000

"Cheers" (May 20)

3.Oscar telecast... ... .$600,000

4.1992 premiere... ... . $325,000

"Murphy Brown"

5."Roseanne"... ... ... .$290,000

6."Coach"... ... ... ... $280,000

7."Monday Night... ... . $265,000

Football"

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