Coke Steals Pepsi’s Thunder at Oscars Turned Ambush Marketing Awards


Leonardo DiCaprio. Martin Scorsese. Meryl Streep. Julia Roberts. Oscar night 2014 was full of disappointment. But the biggest disappointment may have happened off-stage and off-camera, at the corporate headquarters of Pepsi and Samsung.

While both of the brands shelled out piles of money to be the official category advertisers for the Disney-owned ABC network telecast of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ annual ado—as the Oscars generate nearly $90 million in ad revenue—both also watched as their biggest rivals swooped in to ambush market their way into the spotlight.

When host Ellen DeGeneres ordered a few pies from local Los Angeles pizzeria Big Mama’s & Papa’s—whom she has previously ordered from on her own talk show—she likely had no idea she was about to insult the broadcast’s official soda beverage sponsor, Pepsi. But when the pizzas showed up to feed the first few rows of celebs, so did a big Coca-Cola logo on the side of the pizza boxes.[more]

The greater irony is that Coca-Cola has been an Oscars telecast sponsor for the last eight years, but decided to not re-up for 2014. Front Row Analytics, which uses a proprietary formula to determine product placement and brand exposure values, estimated Coke’s Oscars telecast-bomb on Sunday night was worth $1.4 million, just a fraction of the $8.5 million it had been paying as the telecast’s official sponsor (and the approximate amount Pepsi shelled out to take its place.)

More than just the initial onscreen appearance, Coke’s logo was repeatedly tweeted during the show, as the pizza stunt seemed to go over well with both viewers and hungry A-listers.

But host Ellen DeGeneres, a brand ambassador for another ABC Oscars advertiser in JCPenney, wasn’t done messing things up for the Academy.

The most sponsor-friendly Oscars ever featured a number of integrated advertising bits with Samsung. Throughout the night, Ellen used a Samsung Galaxy smartphone to take photos and tweet, and in one instance, Ellen got a number of Hollywood’s biggest stars together for a selfie that subsequently broke Twitter, in what became the single most retweeted image of all time. 

The Wall Street Journal reported that Samsung “paid ABC roughly $18 million for 5 minutes worth of prime-time ads plus unspecified consideration for product placement throughout the broadcast.”

Ad Age also reported that Samsung sponsored 10 tweets featuring celebrity “selfies” taken from the green room and sent via the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences’ Twitter account, which apologized for “breaking Twitter” with Ellen’s front row “best photo ever” celeb selfie.

Fortune estimates the final tally for Samsung at $20 million for its red carpet buzz—and that was before it was announced that Samsung was donating $3 million to charities chosen by DeGeneres.

Since this was the “Twitter Oscars,” Ellen was tweeting backstage from the Academy Awards, too. And because this was also the “Embarrass Our Sponsors Oscars,” she was using her personal smartphone—an Apple iPhone.

Of course, this seems to be on both the Academy and Samsung as much as the host. Anyone who watches Ellen knows she is constantly talking about her iPhone and doing show skits about it. Ellen even made an Ellen Show iPhone app game.

But perhaps the biggest accidental winner of the night was mom and pop pizza shop Big Mama’s & Papa’s Pizza, the eatery that delivered the—being LA, gluten-free, of course—pies. Since its star turn, the shop’s Twitter account has been making hay of its cameo, tweeting photos of celebrities eating its pizza as well as making a detailed list of exactly who ate which pizzas.

According to Front Row Analytics, Big Mama’s & Papa’s gained an enormous lift in brand value due to its pizza delivery guy’s walk-on cameo.

The pizzeria is now offering free pizza in a tongue-in-cheek campaign to be annointed the “official pizza of the Oscars.” But since it was responsible for hugely embracing The Academy on its big night, don’t count on it.