P&G Passes On Academy Awards Telecast, Picks Web

When it comes to this year's Oscar telecast, Procter & Gamble has two words: no deal.

The decision to bypass the Academy Awards is part of the company's interest in a "media neutral" approach, which means de-emphasizing the primacy of the 30-second spot.

After plugging its Olay Regenerist skin-care brand on last year's highly rated ABC telecast--often referred to as the Super Bowl for women--the marketer said a 2007 appearance isn't in the marketing plans for Olay--or any other brands in its portfolio.

"We make decisions on a brand-by-brand basis, based on what makes sense for each individual brand," a P&G rep says, "regardless of the channel."

With the frisson over Super Bowl advertising expected to wind down sometime early next week, a few days after the game, interest in Oscar advertisers should pick up steam.

Pricing looks to be largely in line with a year ago--in the $1.7 million-per-spot range. Sources said ABC has indicated a willingness to settle for slightly less, perhaps in the $1.5 million area.

Besides P&G, State Farm is also dropping out of the awards show, which is viewed by about one-quarter of American homes. The departure leaves open a category-exclusive spot in the insurance arena.

Unilever plans to run a spot for its new Dove Cream Oil Body Wash based on a user-generated ad.

With so many brands targeting females in its portfolio, P&G's decision to cede its spot on the Academy Awards is surprising. Marketers usually sign multi-year deals for placement in the show and usually renew. That trend should accelerate as advertisers increasingly warm to high-profile live events in an increasingly DVR-driven age.

For example, per usual, a slew of marketers are returning for the Feb. 25 broadcast on ABC, including General Motors, AT&T, CareerBuilder.com, American Express, JC Penney, Kodak and Coca-Cola.

Many buys include a run of spots such as Coca-Cola, which is expected to have up to six focusing on Diet Coke (an official sponsor), although the marketer may use the inventory for an ad to promote its flagship brand. (MasterCard declined to confirm an expected return.)

Ratings for the event--which could be affected by the popularity of nominated films or actors--continue to be strong, although they have declined over the last three years. Household ratings in 2004 reached a 26.0, which dropped slightly to a 25.4 in 2005 and more significantly to 23.1 last year.

In the key female 18-to-49 demo, ratings increased in 2005 to an 18.5 from an 18.0 a year before, but fell by 2.3 rating points to 16.2 last year.

It's unclear what effect this year's nominees will have on viewership. Top draws Leonardo DiCaprio ("Blood Diamond"), Will Smith ("The Pursuit of Happyness") and Eddie Murphy ("Dreamgirls") are each up for individual awards. But the best-picture slate arguably includes films freighted with niche appeal, save "The Departed." Al Gore's sure-winner in the documentary category," "An Inconvenient Truth," could, however, attract some upscale viewers.

Last month on a conference call, Susan Arnold, P&G's vice chair for beauty and health, said the country's largest advertiser is moving full speed ahead with a "media neutral" approach. (The strategy is not exclusive to P&G.) She said it contrasts with standard practice as recently as five years ago, when a 30-second spot would be at the core of a marketing plan and other media were "often just an afterthought."

Now, in a holistic campaign, one looks at the end goals for a brand first. Then all media alternatives are evaluated equally as options.

That could explain why, despite passing on the Oscar telecast this go-round, Olay Regenerist is advertising on Oscar.com, the site dedicated to the awards show also sold by ABC. Multiple Olay banner ads appear on the home page.

Arnold said "interactive" initiatives are receiving increasing favor at P&G, since they promote a "two-way interaction with consumers."