After sitting on the sidelines during the Super Bowl, financial services companies are casting their ballots - in the form of advertising dollars - for the Oscars.
Executives in charge of advertising at some financial services companies say the exorbitant prices and dot-com clutter of commercials during the Super Bowl have dampened the appeal of that event, though it is always the most widely watched show on television. The Academy Awards presentation, which airs Sunday night, is the second-biggest annual ratings grabber and has become the venue of choice for financial advertisers including American Express Co., Charles Schwab Corp., and New York Life.
To some industry executives, American Express' new ad campaign and MasterCard International's latest "Priceless" spots will be as much a highlight as the show itself. Visa U.S.A. is making its mark on the E! channel as a sponsor of Joan Rivers' preawards fashion commentary.
Indeed, Advertising Age reports that longtime Oscar advertisers call the Academy Awards the "Super Bowl for Women." The magazine reported that ABC expects a record $62.4 million of ad revenues for the broadcast.
Academy Awards advertisers are paying at least 30% more than they did for last year's show, or $1.3 million for a 30-second spot. This year's Super Bowl rates were higher - about $2.2 million for 30 seconds - but industry analysts said ABC stands to make much more money from the 72d edition of the Oscar ceremony because the network is requiring each advertiser to buy multiple spots.
American Express and MasterCard will make their presence known. American Express has been the exclusive credit card sponsor of the awards since 1993, which means other card companies can only buy time locally rather than nationally during the show itself. But MasterCard has circumvented this restriction by buying time on a Barbara Walters-hosted special airing on ABC before the awards presentation. MasterCard will run a 60-second commercial on local ABC affiliates in New York and Los Angeles during the awards.
Airtime during the Barbara Walters special costs around $465,000 per 30 seconds, but MasterCard said it received special rates as part of a package deal.
"We feel it's a better use of our financial resources to leverage the Oscar rather than pay for exclusive broadcast rights," said Lawrence P. Flanagan, senior vice president of advertising at MasterCard in Purchase, N.Y.
MasterCard says its new commercial for the Oscars, "Cinema," depicts the feeling of "losing yourself at the movies" and touts theaters' acceptance the company's card.
"The Oscars and the Grammies are a very strong [venue] and are growing in consumer preference," said Mr. Flanagan of MasterCard.
American Express will have five 30-second spots during the awards and one during the pre-awards show. They are part of a "Moments of Truth" campaign that the company has kept under wraps and that will actually premiere tonight - in telecasts of the NCAA basketball tournament on CBS
The campaign will receive a larger audience on Sunday, but, "We already had bought the spots, and are sponsors of the NCAA," said an American Express spokeswoman said. "Instead of using ads [during the Oscars show] that had already run, we thought we would run them in both venues. Our cardmembers will be watching both programs."
One commercial shows an executive on a business trip using his American Express card to reroute his ticket to visit his father.
Another ad, which focuses on American Express Membership Banking, dramatizes father-daughter relationships in showing how the Internet makes it easier to do business.
"Our cardmembers are successful and driven by the desire to never give up in both their work and personal lives," said John Hayes, executive vice president of global advertising at American Express. "These new ads capture both the expected and unexpected moments where American Express is there."
The "Moments of Truth" campaign, developed by Ogilvy & Mather in New York, will include three print ads to run Monday in The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The New York Times, and The Los Angeles Times.
Visa, which will only have an advertising presence on the E! channel during the Academy Awards, was the only credit card advertiser at this year's Super Bowl, and other financial services companies stayed away too. Visa, MasterCard, and American Express all aired ads during the 1999 Super Bowl.
"As much as the Super Bowl has become something of a family recreational thing, it's very skewed toward men," said Michele Turkel, president of Turkel International Consulting Inc., a financial services consulting firm in Scarsdale, N.Y. "Even though the viewing audience isn't as high as the Super Bowl, [the Oscars] reach a broader audience because there are more females."