Pete Hammond

EXCLUSIVE: Although studios are furiously spending big campaign bucks on new TV spots to try to bring home the Best Picture Oscar for the likes of The Descendants, The Artist, Hugo, The Help, Moneyball and others, there hasn’t been a big broad pitch and TV ad spend to influence less visible below-the-line crafts categories. Until now.

Paramount, which has ramped up its Best Picture campaign for Hugo and its 11 nominationshas also decided to finance a big TV buy in voter-centric Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco to promote its summer blockbuster Transformers: Dark Of The Moon. At $1.1 billion, the film is second only to Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part II among 2011′s top worldwide grossers (and the biggest hit yet in the valuable franchise). Transformers landed three nominations this year in the not-so-glamorous categories of Best Achievement in Sound Mixing, Sound Editing and Visual Effects — categories where the studio’s prestigioius Best Picture nominee Hugo is also competing. But Hugo is not an ongoing billion-dollar franchise for the studio, and even though Oscar wins might mean more to its bottom line than that of the played-out Transformers, it certainly can’t hurt relationships with the film’s director Michael Bay and producers — including executive producer Steven Spielberg, whose War Horse is also competing in the sound races — to visibly support its Oscar prospects. Hence, the ad buy in hopes of turning around the Transformers franchise’s losing streak with the Academy. The first film in the series, 2007′s Transformers, was nominated in the same three categories but lost each time. The second installment, 2010′s Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen, also came up short for its single nod in the Sound Mixing category.

Here’s a look at the Transformers spot that begins airing today:

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A Paramount spokesperson told me the studio is stepping up Transformers’ Oscar visibility and trying to make a “big statement” about considering crafts nominations in general. For that they think emphasizing the work of the artists in TV and online spots is the best way to showcase it for Academy voters, who may not be so savvy in these areas and just tend to check off a vote for their favorite film rather than what is necessarily the most deserving achievement. Although the individual peer groups made the nominations, everyone in the Academy gets to vote for the final award. ”As you know the Academy is comprised of many branches representing the various disciplines in the filmmaking arena. Because not everyone may be an expert in sound or visual effects, we hope that this spot will encourage voters to carefully consider their choices and take into consideration the craftsmanship of each category when voting,” the spokesman said. “This is the culmination of years of hard work creating cinematic sounds and images that are now iconic — we wanted a form of Academy outreach that did that work justice and we simply felt that to see and hear it was very important.”

It’s definitely rare that a studio will put lay out big TV ad bucks specifically for below-the-line craft categories (some people don’t even want the Acad to keep them on the main show). It’s certainly true that the Academy at large is probably not as sophisticated when it comes to judging the merits of sound and effects, so this primer from Paramount is a novel approach to educate them.

Separately, the studio is also trying hard in the animation area too, where it is trying to gain a foothold on its own against other more established studios in the ‘toon biz. It has created a series of  15-second TV spots for its Animated Feature nominee Rango that amusingly and directly attempt to emphasize the ‘toon’s appeal to members of the acting, writing, directing and producing branches of the Academy — the specific targets of the spots. The first spot on acting began running during last Sunday’s SAG Awards, and they will continue through the voting period. Oscar ballots are due back Febraury 21. Rango represents the first Animated Feature nomination for Paramount (and ILM), although the studio also distributes two other nominees in the category, DreamWorks Animation’s Puss In Boots and Kung Fu Panda 2.

Here are the Rango spots:

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