Back in 2007, life wasn’t nearly as good for Jeff Bridges as it is today. That year, the only film he appeared in was Surf’s Up, a computer-animated children’s movie about surfing penguins (!). So you can’t really blame Bridges for his decision to make a few extra bucks by becoming the official voice of Hyundai (at the time, it was the seventh-largest automaker in the United States). Now, flash-forward three years: Bridges is still pocketing a pretty penny as the voice of Hyundai, which now not only has the distinction of being the world’s most profitable and fastest-growing automobile company, but is also looking to gain market share here in the United States. Additionally, Bridges’s acting career is back on track and he’s poised to pick up the Best Actor prize at the Oscars this Sunday. So, naturally, Hyundai decided that it would probably be a good idea to take advantage of the inherent synergies and purchase a bunch of commercial time during the show (actually, some $9 million worth). Turns out that there was one little thing they didn’t count on.
According to a report in this week’s edition of Advertising Age, the company was notified just a few weeks ago (!) that “its commercials were unfit for air.” And no, not because they were in any way obscene or even controversial (at least, by the definition that most of us would agree upon). Rather, the Academy Awards has rules in place that, and we quote, “make sure certain ads featuring celebrities or celebrity voice-overs don’t run near segments of the program that could feature those very same stars.” Ergo, none of the seven Jeff Bridges–voiced spots that they planned to run during the Oscar telecast — each of which cost somewhere between $1.3 and $1.5 million to purchase and who knows how much to produce, mind you — were cleared to air during the telecast.
While Ad Age doesn’t mention whether any discussions took place between Hyundai, the Academy, and ABC about the automaker pulling their media buy from the show entirely (which is exactly what we would’ve done had we been running the show at Hyundai), we can only assume that ABC wasn’t going to let the automaker walk away from their media commitment without any penalty. So, rather than scrap their campaign and blow up an important piece of their media strategy for the quarter (not to mention the year), Hyundai decided that their best Plan B option was to bring in a bevy of new stars, including former Oscar winners Kim Basinger and Richard Dreyfuss, to do voice-over work at the last minute.
All of which leads us to ask the Academy, Seth and Amy style, “Really?” You have no problems with the studios spending millions upon millions of dollars to campaign for Oscar nominations and votes, you don’t really do anything about some of the vicious negative campaigning that goes on behind the scenes, but you DO deprive American television audiences of 210 seconds’ worth of the dulcet tones of Jeff Bridges? And for what? To appear like the whole ceremony isn’t just one big commercial anyway? Additionally, has the realization that the television network on which the show is being aired is OWNED BY ONE OF THE STUDIOS COMPETING FOR AWARDS actually eluded you? Byzantine rules like this seem sorely out of date at best and downright anti-advertiser at worst, two things that a show with perennially sagging ratings and soft advertiser interest should actually be concerned with. As the dearly departed Michaela Watkins would’ve surely said (had she not been given her walking papers by Lorne Michaels), “Bitch pleeze.”