Oscar Ads Disappointed More Than Stewart

David Kiley

The Academy Awards telecast last night was pretty weak. But unlike many reviewers, I’m not laying too much of the blame at the feet of first-time host Jon Stewart.
Frankly, I thought Stewart was pretty decent. Not as good as Billy Crystal (who is?) or Steve Martin, but better than Whoopie Goldberg.
I thought Stewart’s set-piece on old cowboy movies that used clips from stars like Gregory Peck, Charlton Heston and John Wayne out of context to show that they had “Brokeback” on their minds s in the glory days of the Western was very funny. And mock TV political ads pushing nominees were funny.

The producers and director of the show have some ‘splaining to do about the lackluster pace, dull set design and poor selection of movie clips. There’s an overall lack of glamour and energy in the proceedings, perhaps owing to today’s state of movie stardom, with which Stewart’s wry style may have been a poor fit. Crystal is such a movie fan himself that he has a way of lifting the whole night on his shoulders when he has to.

Now, the ads. At $1.5 million a pop, the Oscars is the second biggest and most expensive ad venue of the year after the Super Bowl. But you wouldn’t have known it by the quality of the creative. General Motors led the way with four minutes of commercials including a puzzling, though not terrible, corporate ad. Why it’s running corporate ads right now, I can’t say. A Cadillac ad for the XLR convertible in which a woman…wait for it….cracks the top down and eases her head back in the seat was a yawn. A replay of the Hummer H3 ad from the Super Bowl in which a giant robot and Godzilla-like monster birth the H3, was fine, though now familiar.
New diet Coke ads themed “Light It Up” were okay. One ad in which a woman goes into a man’s barber shop, seemingly on an impulse, and gets her long locks cut off was interesting given the gay and transgender themes and characters in this year’s “Best Picture” nominees. Though the ads seem to try a little hard to be hip, this one showed they are at least thinking.

An American Express ad by Ogilvy & Mather featuring director M. Night Shyamalan (“The Sixth Sense,” “Unbreakable”) shows the director's supernatural sensibilities as he sits alone in a restaurant and imagines the patrons' secret lives. A man scratching his neck, then his cheek, seems not of this world. A woman wills actor Joe Grifasi to choke on his angry words. Ghosts trip waitresses, while one waitress snaps Shyamalan back to reality. "My life is about finding time to dream," he says. "That's why my card is American Express."

JC Penney ran several ads on the telecast to push its new women’s fashion lines. The ads feature the song “Get It On,” and the recurring visual theme is a woman walking and everything from men to fish, to birds, stop what they are doing to leer at the Penney dressed woman. Seems pretty 1970s to me. Watch the ads on the JCPenney website and it allows you to click on a garment in the ad to get a sort of on-screen print ad with a link to buy the item. Is this how women shop? Not in my house. But we are only one house. I wouldn’t have greenlighted the ads for the simple reason that the tone and look of the ads seemed hokey and dated.

But then again… “It's Hard Out Here for a pimp,” a truly wretched song that sounded like crap when it was performed by Three 6 Mafia won the Oscar for Best song in a movie. So, maybe I’m out of touch.

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