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Campaigning for Oscar Viewers

In the wake of Tuesday’s Oscar nominations, a newly-envisioned Oscar ad campaign is now fully underway. With a month left until broadcast, it is the typical time when TV ads start popping up. Usually the ads feature the Academy Awards host giving a generic plug for the “big night.” But that isn’t so this year. Apparently Jon Stewart’s unbounded popularity didn’t pull enough viewers to their television sets last year to meet the Academy’s approval.

In the wake of Tuesday’s Oscar nominations, a newly-envisioned Oscar ad campaign is now fully underway. With a month left until broadcast, it is the typical time when TV ads start popping up. Usually the ads feature the Academy Awards host giving a generic plug for the “big night.” But that isn’t so this year. Apparently Jon Stewart’s unbounded popularity didn’t pull enough viewers to their television sets last year to meet the Academy’s approval.

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In past years, the Academy has relied on the Oscar brand to sustain ratings, but with the number of viewers dropping, they have called for an overhaul of their traditional ad campaign–this is the year to shake things up.

Plans to revamp Oscar advertising have been in the works since last summer, when the Academy signed director Spike Lee and ad agency TBWA/Chiat/Day (of the Omnicom Group) to head up the campaign. According to the Academy’s Director of Marketing, Beth Harris, this is the first time the Oscar ad campaign isn’t being created in-house. The result is an expansion of the marketing efforts to include outdoor advertising on billboards, phone booths and bus stops in cities around the country, and TV commercials that move away from celebrity hosts as the centerpieces.

This year’s TV campaign is the creative vision of Spike Lee–a commercial that features a montage of everyday people blurting out famous lines from classic American movies–that was launched in conjunction with the announcement of the nominations this week. Apparently, the point is to ignite the passion for movies in general, and to persuade the American public to watch the Oscars because it really is a night about the magic of the movies regardless of whether they’ve seen any of them. The commercial ends with the tag line: “It’s not just the movies, it’s the Oscars.”

According to a Jan. 23 New York Times article, the audience for the show was only 38.9 million last year when “Crash” won for best picture, compared to 55 million in 1998 when “Titanic” won. Given the relatively complex films up for best picture this year, the Academy’s carefully planned new marketing strategy couldn’t have been more forward-looking.

Casual movie-goers, those most likely to be the Oscar’s viewing audience, have no affinity to this year’s best picture contenders, given the artfulness .vs commercial popularity of the titles. The show’s would-be audience has skipped out on this year’s best picture contenders. With Dreamgirls getting knocked out of the race for the top prize, it seems this year’s show will be a tough sell. And that’s even with the quirky and beloved Ellen Degeneres in the spotlight as the host.

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If you haven’t seen the commercial yet, you can watch it on Oscar.com or ABC.com

Will these commercials make the public want to watch the Oscars more? Doubtful. Whomever already watches the show, will continue to watch it. I’ll be watching, and most likely throw an Oscar party and discuss the red carpet fashions with friends. It’s for the love of movies, right?

The real question remains though, will this new image that the Academy is creating for itself boost ratings? It definitely remains to be seen.

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