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Feb. 23, 2004. 02:40 PM
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A hands-on policy for Oscar ads


NEW YORK — Don't look for any flatulent horses or impotence cures during commercial breaks at the Academy Awards.

The motion picture academy has an unusual hands-on policy to monitor advertising during the Oscars, approving each commercial and enforcing a strict set of rules regarding what can be shown.

It will be nothing like the raucous Super Bowl free-for-all.

"We want the show to reflect, not a stuffiness, but a dignity appropriate for film's highest honour," said Ric Robertson, executive administrator for the motion picture academy. "We want it to be a family affair that can be appreciated by the widest possible audience."

The awards show, to be telecast Sunday on ABC, is often dubbed the "Super Bowl for women" and frequently is the year's second most-watched program after the football championship.

ABC is charging a record $1.5 million (U.S.) for a 30-second Oscar ad, and has been sold out since September. CBS took in $2.3 million for a half-minute of ad time on the Super Bowl.

Like the game's infamous halftime show, Super Bowl advertising featured excess and questionable taste. Besides Bud Light's gaseous horses, there was a crotch-biting dog, Cedric the Entertainer's bikini wax, a kilt-wearer enjoying a blast of cold air to his nether regions and several spots for erectile dysfunction medication.

Levitra-pusher Mike Ditka will be benched during the Oscars. There will be no pharmaceutical ads at all during the show, ABC said.

Some of the academy's Oscar ad rules, which have been in place for at least two decades:

No feminine hygiene products.

No mention of "Oscars," the Academy Awards or any kind of awards show. Robertson forced one advertiser whose script included people sitting in the Oscars audience to remove the reference.

No use of an Oscar nominee or presenter in any ad. Catherine Zeta-Jones' telephone company commercials, for instance, were forbidden when she was a nominee last year.

No ads that mention or use clips from nominated films. In fact, the Oscars prohibit all movie ads; the academy doesn't want any questions raised if a studio that advertised heavily wins a lot of Oscars.

No mixed messages. The academy accepts ads from only one car company — this year it's Cadillac — so no other advertiser can show any other car in its commercial.

Although ABC grants an occasional wish to a star — vegetarian Paul McCartney didn't want hamburger ads during his music special — the network gives no one but the academy such power over its advertising, said Geri Wang, ABC senior vice-president for ad sales.

"They are preserving the exclusive sanctity of this one show, because there's no other show like this — bar none," Wang said.

Not only does the academy approve each ad, ABC is assigning a broadcast standards executive this weekend to make sure advertisers don't try to sneak in any last-minute switches, she said.

Both executives said there were no ads rejected this year and no changes caused by heightened sensitivity after the Super Bowl — unlike for the ceremony itself, which is being shown on a delay to guard against anything unplanned like Janet Jackson's flash.

Most of the academy's advertisers are accustomed to the policies, Wang said. All but one of the advertisers are return customers from last year, she said.

"The Oscars have always been a good environment to showcase our brands," said Robin Schroeder, spokesperson for Procter & Gamble, which this year is hawking a teeth whitener and body cream.

Other major advertisers include McDonald's, Pepsi, Kodak, Home Depot, Schwab and J.C. Penney. There are no beer companies.

It's a showcase event for Madison Avenue: For about half the Oscar ads, it will be their first time on the air.

"We're not yet to the point where, like the Super Bowl, people are anticipating the ads," Robertson said. "But we're getting there."

ABC had no trouble selling its ad time, but it's still likely that the policy cost the network money.

By not allowing feminine hygiene ads, companies selling these products miss out on the largest captive TV audience of women each year.

Movie studios, already among the biggest television advertisers, would no doubt kill for an ad during their industry's most prestigious event, demand that would drive up the average price of a 30-second spot.

"The academy made a decision to maintain the standards," Robertson said, "perhaps at a cost."

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