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Advertising at the Academy Awards

The 93rd annual Academy Awards kept pace with what’s been an unusual year, delivering unique highs and a few unavoidable lows. Yet despite less-than-stellar ratings, ABC sold out its full advertising inventory for the pandemic-postponed event. Brands including Google, GM, Rolex, Airbnb and Verizon spent $2 million for each 30-second spot, which was only slightly less than last year’s pricing. That’s because the star-studded night still attracts one of TV’s largest broadcast audiences, apart from live sports events. Some brands chose the opportunity to kick off campaigns now set to unfold via multiple formats, while newcomers including Grey Goose and used the Oscars as their advertising debut. Here’s how it all played out.

First Timers
Taking a page out of this year’s Super Bowl, where over 21 brands made their first Big Game appearance, this year’s Academy Awards attracted many first time advertisers who looked to the live event as a chance to show up in an “interesting, timely and relevant way,” as Disney’s senior VP of entertainment brand solutions, Jerry Daniello, told AdAge. It’s also a great venue for premiering new creative endeavors. Grey Goose called on funky VFX technology to spark interest in its Grey Goose Essences, a fresh line of flavored vodkas and the company’s biggest product launch in years. Their spot marked the first in a series that will air across both traditional and digital channels. AARP likewise picked the Oscars to unveil its first campaign in three years, with a spot called “Anthem.” Targeting Gen X and young Baby Boomers, the youngest of the company’s eligible membership base, the ad aimed to “shake up the way people think about our organization by bringing personality, warmth and optimism to the most important aspects of their lives,” according to Martha Boudreau, the organization’s EVP & Chief Communications and Marketing Officer.

Old Favorites
Verizon came back for its fourth consecutive Oscars, making a splash with one of the biggest ad buys: seven spots aired at various times throughout the night and over the weekend. The mobile provider has historically been among the show’s top sponsors, dropping close to $13 million on last year’s telecast. This year’s 30- and 45-second spots featured real Verizon customers sharing stories of how the network helped them stay connected to friends and family during the pandemic. An Easter egg further tantalized fans: three different “5G portals” were made available on social media for viewers to discover and use to gain a behind-the-scenes red carpet peek. Corona also returned, but with a rerun of its 30-second “And Zoe Makes Three” spot, starring Snoop Dogg, rapper Bad Bunny and Zoe Saldana, that first premiered at February’s Golden Globes. The beer brand plans to continue investing in high-profile media events as part of its new “La Via Mas Fina” (“The Fine Life”) campaign.

Timely Offerings
Google pulled at viewers’ heartstrings with two 90-second ads meant to show how the tech giant’s digital tools can help nurture relationships and preserve bonds during the continuing days of Covid. In “A CODA story,” Google employee Tony Lee shared his account of growing up with deaf parents. Along with showcasing features like Live Transcribe and Closed Captions in Google Meet, the company also took this opportunity to sponsor closed-captioning for hearing-impaired Oscars viewers. The second spot was fictional, inspired by the night’s Best Documentary winner, My Octopus Teacher. It features a boy dealing with the tedium of quarantine—until the film reignites his excitement and curiosity about learning. With the help of various Google tools, his dad reinforces at-home education and keeps the boy’s spark alive. Finally, Expedia tapped into our collective itch to travel after a long, locked-down year. Starring actress Rashida Jones and set to a slightly tweaked version of Eric Carmen’s hit song, “All by Myself,” the spot supports a major makeover for the brand at a crucial time for travel companies.

The Academy Awards have long been hailed as an important cultural event and big night for TV. In 1998, the gala attracted a record 57 million viewers. Though this year’s broadcast looked quite different, there’s no denying the show’s impact. Brands recognized its enduring power, and showed up with ads we won’t soon forget.