Let's Talk Oscars

Hyundai Had a Good Night; JCPenney, Not So Good
All about the Academy Awards.
Feb. 23 2009 10:22 AM

Let's Talk Oscars

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Greetings, Troy and Dana,

Just popping in to your Oscars party for a moment to chat about the ads. In recent years, the Oscars had begun to rival the Super Bowl as an advertising platform. This year, ratings for the Oscar telecast were expected to be low (thanks to the generally meager box office performance of the nominated films), so the ad scene was less intense. Still, the Oscars are a great venue for brands that feel at home within a context of high cheekbones and haute couture—instead of sweaty athletes and nacho dips.

Seth Stevenson Seth Stevenson

Seth Stevenson is a frequent contributor to Slate. He is the author of Grounded: A Down to Earth Journey Around the World.

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Hyundai seems to feel comfy in both contexts, having followed multiple Super Bowl spots with a slew of Oscar ads. (I counted at least six.) The car company's pitches came from every angle: a recession-friendly guarantee that you'll get your money back if you buy a Hyundai and then lose your job, a pair of offbeat celebrity endorsements from Yo-Yo Ma and Billy Corgan, a patriotic reminder that many Hyundais are built in America. If there was a theme, it was the economic downturn. (One of the voice-over lines was "We're all in this together." Tell that to Rick Santelli!) I didn't sense a specific brand identity getting forged here, though. It's just an all-out publicity push—an attempt to plant a Hyundai flag in the consumer's brain, right next to those of Honda, Nissan, and Toyota. It's curious that Hyundai would make this bold offensive now, when Americans are buying drastically fewer cars. But the fight for market share doesn't come to a halt just because the market's shrinking.

Diet Coke is a product more obviously in tune with the Oscars vibe. I liked both of the soft drink's two spots—one featured Tom Colicchio from Top Chef, the other Heidi Klum from Project Runway. But is it me, or did it feel like Bravo benefitted more from that promotion than Diet Coke? Throw in Runway's Tim Gunn serving as a red-carpet host and later appearing in an ad for Tide detergent, and it was an oddly high-profile night for the cable channel. How maddening for ABC: They put all that effort into the show, and then NBC Universal (which owns Bravo) dominates the commercial breaks.

And now to JCPenney, the evening's other major marketing presence. This was a terrific opportunity for the department store to talk up its women's clothing line—during a telecast that's in large part about fashion and at a moment when discount brands are suddenly in vogue. But danged if those outfits weren't shockingly fug! Dueling jungle prints. Superfluous belts. High-waisted jeans with some sort of double-breasted button arrangement. It's like Amy Winehouse got lost and disoriented in Meredith Baxter Birney's closet. Feel free to pick up one of these ensembles for your wife, Troy, but don't count on making it to your next anniversary.

Over to you, Dana. Would you agree that the most effective advertisement of the night was Judd Apatow's infomercial for his DVD back catalog—hosted by Seth Rogen and James Franco? Also: Was this the Amanda Seyfried breakout night America was waiting for? And how did you feel about the fact that Space Chimps received more acknowledgment last night than Synecdoche, New York?

Many thanks to the academy,
Seth