Oscar Sells Out

With less than a week to go before Hollywood fêtes itself with the red carpet and gold statuettes, ABC’s ad sales team has cause to throw a celebration of its own as the network’s Academy Awards broadcast is all but sold out.

Per media buyer estimates, ABC heads into its 35th consecutive Oscars telecast with two or three remaining avails, as a sturdy roster of returning sponsors and an improving economy have taken some of the grunt work out of the sales process.

The three top spenders of a year ago (Hyundai, Coca-Cola and JCPenney) are back in the limelight, reversing a micro-trend that saw perennial high rollers General Motors and L’Oréal drop out of the Academy Awards altogether.

Pricing for time in the 82nd Academy Awards is trending higher than last year’s event, when the recession put the bite on ABC’s ad rates. According to Kantar Media estimates, the broadcaster commanded an average price of $1.31 million per 30-second spot in 2009, a drop of 23 percent versus the prior-year figure ($1.69 million). This time around, ABC has written deals at $1.4 million to $1.5 million per spot, per media buyers.

Hyundai motors into the March 7 broadcast as the exclusive automotive sponsor, buying seven ads that will air during the program and in one pre-show spot. It’s a return engagement for the Korean automaker, which in 2009 signed a three-year option with ABC that grants it the right of first refusal.

Along with securing the greatest chunk of airtime in this year’s Oscars broadcast, Hyundai may also boast the most interesting back story. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences effectively prohibits sponsors from running in-show creative featuring any of the night’s nominees or presenters, which put Hyundai in a bit of a pickle. Jeff Bridges, who has been the carmaker’s voice-over talent for the last three years, also happens to be a Best Actor nominee.

In order to comply with the Academy’s criteria, Hyundai shot seven spots with other A-list talent. Bridges suggested a short list of colleagues, and last week Hyundai finished recording the final ad, with an assist from actress Kim Basinger. Other stars filling in for Bridges are Richard Dreyfuss and Martin Sheen.

Chris Perry, director of marketing communications for Hyundai, said the Oscars buy focuses on the 2011 Sonata, a midsized sedan poised to take on Toyota’s Camry and the Honda Accord. Of the eight spots that will air during the awards, six will be devoted to the Sonata. The remaining two will tout the Genesis coupe.

“Our presence in the Academy Awards continues our ‘Big Voices in Big Places’ mantra,” Perry said. “We started with the Super Bowl, we’re back for our second Oscars and you’re going to see a lot of us in the [FIFA] World Cup.”

Also returning for an encore is Coca-Cola, which has been the exclusive beverage sponsor of the Academy Awards since 2006. The soft drink giant is paring down its screen time from a year ago, buying two minutes and 30 seconds of inventory, versus four minutes in the 2009 show. On tap are a new 60-second spot for Diet Coke, two :30s for the flagship brand and a pair of 15-second spots from the “Heart Truth” campaign.

Retailer JCPenney made the third largest investment in last year’s Oscars, spending an estimated $9.2 million on seven :30s. This year, the company has snapped up six minutes of airtime, including a spot for its Cindy Crawford home furnishings line.

JCPenney is using the broadcast to introduce a new tagline (“New look. New day. Who knew.”), said chief marketing officer Mike Boylson. “The Academy Awards are all about what’s culturally relevant, what’s in style, so it’s a very proper place for us to launch our whole spring style message,” Boylson said.