Sponsors Mind Their Oscar Performances

NEW YORK After a taste-deficient Super Bowl, advertisers will show their kinder, gentler side during the 76th annual Academy Awards telecast, airing Sunday evening on ABC. Spots—going for an estimated $1.5 million per 30-second slot—feature emotional storylines like a lost dog finding his way home (MasterCard) and a mother watching her daughter grow up (JC Penney).

Here is a sampling of what to expect from this year’s Oscar commercials:

Jason Biggs will appear in one of three Diet Pepsi ads by BBDO in New York breaking during the telecast. In one spot, Biggs is shown hanging out with friends watching the Oscars broadcast. While eating spicy food, he asks someone with a Diet Pepsi if he can have it. When the man says it’s the last one, Biggs takes a bite of a spicy chicken wing and stages an “awards-worthy” performance about how spicy the food was and grabs the soda from him. The positioning of the product mirrors that of brand Pepsi—that it is a perfect complement to food.

Another spot shows a night watchman enjoying a sandwich with the soft drink. He becomes so engrossed in what he’s eating and drinking that he loses track of the security monitor. In a third ad, a baseball fan watching TV is enjoying his Diet Pepsi with chips so much that he ignores the birth of his child in an adjoining room.

The Diet Pepsi spots will run using the new theme line, “Diet Pepsi. It’s the diet cola,” a play off brand Pepsi’s campaign from November that was tagged, “Pepsi. It’s the cola.” Two spots already airing for brand Pepsi will also run during the telecast.

Anheuser-Busch, the exclusive alcoholic beverage advertiser on the Academy Awards, debuts four commercials (three 30-second spots and a 15-second ad). Two are for Budweiser and are part of a lifestyle effort in which “the liquid is the hero,” according to A-B executives. Both are from Omnicom’s DDB Chicago.

A “Pre-Nup” spot from DDB in New York for Michelob AmberBock shows a couple exchanging apparently loving statements. The camera pans back to reveal they are developing pre-nuptial agreement with a lawyer.

An ad for responsible drinking from DDB, tagged “Responsibility matters,” presents mothers talking about what they think their children are doing—and they are proven correct because they have talked to the children about making smart choices.

MasterCard will break three spots chronicling the journey of a dog making his way home after being left behind during a camping trip. In the spots, by McCann-Erickson in New York, the dog hitches a ride with a couple in a truck, a guy on a motorcycle with a sidecar, and a rock band, respectively. Along the way, good Samaritans purchase items like water and a bandana for the dog. The final spot ends with the dog reuniting with his family.

Allstate is running two commercials in three time slots from Leo Burnett in Chicago. The insurance company will break a new spot called “Broadway,” showing actor Dennis Hasybert on a theater stage talking about people getting their 15 minutes in the spotlight. Allstate, he says, will spend more than 15 minutes explaining insurance coverage to people.

Another Allstate spot that will air, “Guardrail,” broke earlier. It features Haysbert in front of a damaged guardrail talking about how drivers sometimes do things other than drive behind the wheel. It mentions that Allstate gives a good driver discount.

Charles Schwab’s two spots tout its new “Personal Choice” line of services. The ads were created by GSD&M in Austin, Texas. One shows women eating lunch and talking about what they like in men. It turns out they are talking about their brokers. Another ad has customers questioning employees of various investment brokerages, such as “Can we get VIP service if we don’t have a huge portfolio?” The employees answer in the negative, while a voiceover states Charles Schwab offers all the services in question.

JC Penney will break five spots via DDB in Chicago during the telecast. The work retains the tagline, “It’s all inside,” and adds the theme, “Have you seen what’s inside?” One shows a man who forgets his floor when his elevator fills with JC Penney-clad women. Another presents a woman clicking on furniture on the JC Penney Web site on her laptop and having it appear in her house. A third shows a girl in her room growing from a baby into a young adult, then leaving for college in JC Penney clothes.

Procter & Gamble will air a spot that broke in January. Created by Saatchi & Saatchi in New York and called “In Love,” it features a group of women seated around a table, noticing a glow around one of them. While her friends comment that she must be in love, it’s only Crest White Strips making her teeth brighter.

Washington Mutual will air two new spots, created by Sedgwick Rd. in Seattle. In “Debra,” a woman is nervous about her home loan. When she goes to Washington Mutual, she becomes relaxed to the point that she laughs while being audited. “Tom” is a man with “weak principles” until he gets free checking at the bank and is inspired to become honest, telling a woman he’s never had a girlfriend and lives with his mother.