Why The Oscars Ad Buy Is Worth It

ABC is asking for a reported $2.5 million to air a 30-second spot on the Feb. 26 Academy Awards telecast, a new high but just a nudge above last year’s asking price of $2 million per spot.

Some of you might be wondering where they get the nerve, considering that year-over-year ratings for the Oscars have fluctuated wildly and actually declined for the past two consecutive years. 

While nobody can predict the ratings for this year’s show, several factors will either boost ratings overall or at least draw more viewers from certain demographics, and that’s why the $2.1 million price tag is worth every penny.

First off, this year many actors and filmmakers of color are well represented among the nominations—Denzel Washington, Mahershala Ali, Viola Davis, Ruth Negga, Naomie Harris, Dev Patel, and Octavia Spencer are all being recognized for their performances and the films in which they appear tell stories within the context of race. Those films, “Fences,” “Lion,” “Hidden Figures” and “Moonlight”, are also nominated for Best Picture.



Four of the five nominated films in the documentary feature category also explore themes involving race: “Fire at Sea” (about the African migrant crisis in Italy); “I Am Not Your Negro” (looks at an unfinished book by James Baldwin); “O.J.: Made in America”; and “13th” (charts the rise of incarceration rates in the U.S.). 

Unlike last year’s #OscarsSoWhite controversy, this year’s broadcast could see a significant uptick in multicultural viewers, especially African-Americans, a coveted and influential demographic. 

A Nielsen report this month, “For Us By Us? The Mainstream Appeal of Black Content,” explored the number of current black-themed TV shows that have broad cross-cultural appeal. 

“From music to movies, fashion and art, Black Americans have long played an important role in shaping popular culture in the U.S., and that influence remains strong.,” the report says. 

Andrew McCaskill, Nielsen SVP of communications and multicultural marketing at Nielsen, notes that the “insight is important for culture and content creators, as well as manufacturers and retailers looking to create engaging, high-impact advertising campaigns.”

The Oscars ad buy this year is worth it, even if ratings decline because brands will want to reach a multicultural audience, with a high concentration of African Americans.

Second, every awards show over the past six months has been characterized by political statements made from the stage. Americans may be suffering from politics fatigue but even if they do not tune in for the Oscars, they’ll certainly become informed about who said what during the broadcast, via news outlets and social media. 

People who did not watch the “Golden Globes” know that Meryl Streep, without mentioning any names, made her feelings known about a certain president (maybe we should now call it “Streeping.”) 

Meaningful moments take off like wildfire, and why would this year’s show be devoid of controversy? 

Consider how quickly a Senate exchange between Elizabeth Warren and Mitch McConnell this month turned into a widely shared meme: “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.” It’ll be interesting to see if any content from the Oscars broadcast achieves this level of cultural currency.

Finally, second-screen opportunities abound during live broadcasts. An estimated 84% of smartphone and tablet owners engage with those screens while watching television, commenting on the content and the ads.

Last year, Oscars sponsors such as Bare Snacks, Chevrolet, Mars, Maybelline, Pasta Chips, People magazine and Special K ranked high in social-media engagement and impact during the show, according to Engagement Labs.

If this year’s Super Bowl advertising is any indication, ads and celebs are bound to experience a halo effect for many days after the show. The fact that Audi’s equal-pay spot during the game provoked so much negative reaction online was itself controversial and thought-provoking. It goes to show that being provocative with purpose is very smart.

We can hope for at least as much chatter-worthy advertising during the Oscars from the likes of AARP, Adidas, Anheuser-Busch, AT&T, GEICO, GM and Hyatt, and United Healthcare? Can’t we?

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