No sign of recession at pre-Oscar gift suites

LOS ANGELES Fri Feb 20, 2009 8:03pm EST

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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Not everyone nominated for an Academy Award will take home an Oscar on Sunday, but even the losers don't have to go home empty handed.

Lavish spa vacations, diamond jewels, plastic surgery treatments and expensive watches are just some of the products available at gift suites set up in hotels for Academy Award nominees, presenters and selected VIPs.

There was no sign of a global economic crisis at GBK 'Circus of the Senses' gift suite where invited guests can receive "more than $35,000 in gifted luxury," according to the company.

Gavin Keilly, the head of GBK luxury lifestyle gift suites and special events company, admitted that some may see it as just the rich getting richer. But he said for companies promoting their products, it is great value.

Keilly said that 20 percent of the proceeds are going to four charities and celebrities can also donate their gift bag to their favorite charity.

"The spin ... is that the celebrity actually could go around, pick up one of everything and then give it to the charity of their choice," Keilly said in an interview.

"They won't be taxed on it and now they are doing their part about really making a difference and helping out a good cause, just for a few minutes of their time," he added.

GBK has arranged a gift room to represent each of the five movies nominated for the best film award -- "The Reader," "Slumdog Millionaire," "Milk," "Frost/Nixon," and "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button."

Each room has a decor and products tailored to the specific film so companies can introduce their products to celebrities.

IMPLIED ENDORSEMENT

"Celebrities sell," said Karen Wood, the president of Backstage Creations in Los Angeles, which brings corporate clients backstage at awards shows.

"Having a celebrity say they like a certain product, that is ROI (return on investment) for a company," she added.

A photo of a celebrity with a product posted on a website or in a news release is an implied endorsement that can spike sales of the item, according to Wood, who has created backstage suites events at various awards ceremonies.

"The earned value from participating in a suite like this is extremely high," said Gilbertson Cuffy, assistant brand manager for the gourmet coffee company Senseo, after demonstrating a coffee machine.

Leslie Unger, director of communications for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science, said it discontinued gift bags, which were reportedly worth up to $100,000, several years ago because of tax implications.

The pre-Oscar gifts suites are not endorsed by the Academy and anyone who accepts a product is liable for any taxes due on the item.

Products in suites can range from $20 to $100 for less prestigious awards shows to much more for the Academy Awards. But Wood said it is not just about the price, but also the appropriateness of the item to the event.

"These are celebrities who have access to anything. For them, it is learning about new products they may not have been exposed to," she said.

Wood said companies still want to market their products through celebrities, but they have to do it in a way that is more appropriate for the times.

"We're having more of a charity focus," she explained.

"There is a lot of good that you can do in relation to celebrity marketing in sort of a new way now," Wood added.

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