NEW YORK (Reuters) - When Hollywood writers voted last week to call off a strike against television and film studios, General Motors, J.C. Penney and other advertisers set aside fears the Oscars broadcast would be canceled.
But that doesn't mean they'll be worry-free on Sunday when ABC broadcasts the Academy Awards, the second biggest U.S. advertising event of the year behind only the Super Bowl.
Much is at stake for advertisers who paid an average of about $1.8 million for a 30-second spot in this year's broadcast, up 7 percent from a year ago.
Along with GM and J.C. Penney, commercials will be run by McDonalds, American Express, MasterCard, Coca-Cola and Unilever, among others.
Like the Super Bowl, many of the commercials will be eye-catching and never before seen. But Oscar advertisements favor style and fashion, whereas commercials run during football championship lean heavily on comedy.
"It's more fashionable and it's definitely not funny," said Carolyn Hadlock, creative director and principal for advertising agency Young & Laramore. "It's more aspirational."
Until last week, the annual awards show honoring the best of movies appeared in jeopardy because of the strike. Earlier this year, the strike turned Golden Globes broadcast into a simple news conference -- a similar outcome for the Oscars would have created a major disruption for advertisers.
Arguably, the Oscars broadcast today is more important than ever to advertisers, with prime-time TV viewership shrinking and commercials more frequently skipped by an audience equipped with TiVos and other digital video recorders.
"It's fresh, exciting programming and you never know what the outcome is going to be," said Fran Kelly, chief executive of Arnold, an advertising agency. "You want to watch it live, you tend to watch it with friends and you talk about it the next day."
The advertiser line-up for the 2008 Academy Awards show will look similar to that of the past decade, a period when TNS Media Intelligence estimates that marketers have spent more than $650 million for commercial time during the show.
Eight top advertisers, including McDonalds and GM, have been responsible for more than 60 percent of the spending during the period, TNS said, and 75 percent of the yearly ad spending for the broadcast comes from companies that appeared the previous year.
One reason the Academy Awards are so appealing to marketers is an upscale, highly educated audience that is about 60 percent female. That makes the show well-suited for consumer goods and car campaigns -- movie studios are barred from running commercials during the broadcast.
J.C. Penney, for instance, is using the telecast to launch a campaign for its new American Living brand. Set to music, the spots feature Americana scenes of countryside, newlyweds, teens with skateboards and couples embracing.
Unilever is taking a different approach with its Dove brand, building on the success of previous user-generated spots and attempting to drive Web traffic.
Unilever asked consumers to come up with 30-second commercials for Dove Supreme Cream Oil Body Wash and upload them to dovecreamoil.com. During the Academy Awards, viewers will be able to vote online for their favorite of two finalists in the ad contest. The winner will be revealed during the broadcast.
"In a funny way, the Web is making a big event TV like the Oscars more attractive than ever before, said Kelly. "You can really extend your $1.8 million TV spot."
Ford Motor Co's Jaguar will run commercial spots in 11 local markets including New York, Chicago and Los Angeles to debut its XF model in a campaign that involves Web placements at entertainmentweekly.com, ontheredcarpet.com and instyle.com.
"The Academy Awards is so right for us," said Carla Brand, a North American brand director at ad agency Euro RSCG Fuel New York, which worked on the campaign.
"It's one of the few places you can find right now that has really high impact and is the right environment for a luxury brand," she said. "We really sacrifice nothing with it."
Editing by Steve Orlofsky