Sunday night saw another pandemic-era award show with the 93rd Annual Oscars. If you heard anything about it you heard that Chadwick Boseman did not win best actor, that Chloe Zhao’s Nomadland took home best picture, and that it saw the lowest viewership in Oscar history. This year’s Oscars drew only 9.85 million viewers which is a sharp decline from the 23.6 million viewers in 2020; for reference, The Voice averages 7.33 million viewers a night. Despite this not unexpected drop in viewership – the Grammys and the Golden Globes also saw sharp declines in viewership, ABC was reportedly able to sell ad inventory for $2 Million per 30-second spot. Which is why we’re here, not to recap what happened during the Oscars, but what happened during commercial breaks.

Oscar Advertising Toplines

We tracked a total of 2,800 ad airings from 411 advertisers during the three hour event. 26 advertisers aired new ads throughout the evening including Verizon, Google, Cadillac, and Target. 12 advertisers aired ads for tv programming and only 3 advertisers, Hulu, In The Heights, and West Side Story, aired ads for movies during the biggest televised celebration of movies of the year.

Creatives, Trends, and New ads

Let’s start with new movies. A new trailer for Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In The Heights dropped during the Oscars. The much-anticipated screen adaptation of the Hamilton creator’s first Broadway musical was set to release last summer, but… well… Covid-19. Needless to say it’s been teased for a while now, but this latest trailer revealed more about the story than past ads so the associated excitement level was probably bumped. Then, an ad that looked and felt like In The Heights until you realized it was set in the 1950s and revolved around Sharks and Jets – surprise! It’s West Side Story and the creators of the ad were definitely playing off of the audience’s expectation to see an ad for In The Heights which was a really clever ploy.

Another unexpected winner of the evening was Google with two emotional ads promoting a whole host of their tools and services by showing how they can/have benefitted real people. The first mostly promoted Google’s real-time AI translation tools in an emotional ad showing how it has benefited a family with deaf parents during the pandemic, the second had no real focus it showed a suite of Google products – and a shoutout to the winner of Best Documentary, My Octopus Teacher – to show how the tools can make a little boy’s life better. Similar emotional tones were hit by Verizon in their ads throughout the night showing the human connections made by their fast network during the pandemic. While these two were certainly the biggest advertisers to hit a strong emotional tone, emotional ads were something of a theme throughout the night, including by smaller advertisers such as Suddenlink.

Other highlights of the night included:

  • An Apple ad that didn’t feature their new products, but instead a farmer finding an iPhone in a haystack using his Apple Watch. It was especially bizarre because they literally just released a new product to help you find things.
  • An Expedia ad with the tagline, “It matters who you travel with.” The incredibly clever ad shows someone having a terrible vacation saved by Rashida Jones who is a stand-in for Expedia.
  • And of course Cadillac debuted their new EV during the Oscars. The Lyriq is portrayed as the reward a young executive gets after years of hard work.

While the Oscars might not have been what they were in the past and the audience may have shrunk significantly, it was a great night for advertisements. We expect that while the audience may remain small, they are often very engaged and though many aspects of the Oscars may change in years to come, it will continue to be an important night for advertisers. And if Google could keep making us cry from their advertising, that would be great.

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