Gold Rush

GIVEN THE PRESS SURROUNDING THIS YEAR'S race to nab the world's most famous naked man, as well as the final results, we decided to try a little experiment and research the ad habits of the five Best Picture nominees. In the interests of our sanity, we confined ourselves to a print sampling, using Variety (daily, weekly and New York editions) and the Hollywood Reporter (daily and Tuesday editions), as well as the arts sections of both the Los Angeles and New York Times. The time frame for our survey was from January 1, the day after the 1998 Oscar qualifying year ended, to March 16, when final ballots were due. (Weekly Variety tallies include the December 21 thru January 3 edition.)

Although Miramax has insisted that its newspaper advertising is geared toward box-office receipts and should not be confused with its Academy-targeted trade advertising, we're including two daily papers anyway. For one thing, our results indicate that ad space in the L.A. and N.Y. Times increased around key dates in the voting calendar (for instance, after the February 9 nominations announcement), and surely there is a reason why every ad for every Oscar-nominated film in both papers features the friendly Academy reminder: "Your card will admit you and a guest to any performance."

A caveat: Because advertisers and publications are not inclined to discuss their contract specifics, we can't account for variables such as discount package rates, which means our totals are essentially educated guesses. To give you a sense of the money at stake, however, consider that a full-color page in Daily Variety runs about $12,000, and $8,000 in the Reporter; a full-page, black-and-white ad in the daily L.A. Times costs nearly $37,000 -- the same page costs almost twice as much in the N.Y. Times. (Our costs are based solely on size and color charges; special placements, for instance, have not been considered.)

The February boom in Elizabeth's advertising probably indicates that either (a) the Best Picture nomination caught Gramercy Pictures totally off guard, or (b) the studio was saving its dollars for after the good news came so it could then trot out the heavy artillery. Though it never forked out for a double truck (two-page spread) in the two newspapers, Gramercy noticeably upped its space for Elizabeth in late February and early March in both papers; meanwhile, in the trades its campaign focused on the film's best bet for a win, leading lady Cate Blanchett.

Doing double time in the Best Pic battle, Miramax also gave a sizable nudge to its hopeful, Life Is Beautiful. The studio got extra mileage out of eventual winner Roberto Benigni's multiple nominations, throwing them all into single ads. Life also saw its ad size expand following the nominations, including a lot of color in the L.A. Times and, as insurance, full-page color ads in the trades that spelled out the procedure for voting for Best Foreign Film, which the film won.

Saving Private Ryan provides a tricky variable for our modest study, with a periodic lack of ads in the major papers prior to its February 5 re-release. Nevertheless, thereafter the DreamWorks engine built significant steam, with full-page and double-truck ads gaining in frequency as February rolled along. Ryan tops the trades roster in number of ads during our time frame: On February 25 and 26, a total of 20 full pages, plus two double trucks -- all in color -- appeared in Daily Variety and the Hollywood Reporter.

But it was all the Dream team could do to keep up with Shakespeare in Love, on which Miramax spared no expense in any of our focus publications. Shakespeare -- the only one of the five nominees to have color ads appear in the costly N.Y. Times -- enjoyed a campaign that included numerous color double-truck ads selling the movie and all 13 nominations, along with a huge push for Gwyneth Paltrow. Several trade ads not specifically touting her nomination still prominently featured her image.

Soon after The Thin Red Line's Christmas release, nearly 20 full-page ads appeared for the film in January newspapers; in February, the ad sizes began to decline, and some days there were no ads at all. On the other hand, Twentieth Century Fox's trade campaign remained robust throughout our survey, consisting almost entirely of full pages and double trucks. Our results show that in Daily Variety Fox appears to have outspent Miramax's Life Is Beautiful by just $15,000. It seems likely that the studio hoped its existential candidate had the sort of virtues that might not be lost on the Academy, even as its box-office numbers began to dwindle.

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