Bob Dylan has always been famously anti-establishment, but there he was in late August, strumming his guitar in a commercial for iTunes and iPod, both owned by Apple Computer.
Mr. Dylan does not suffer from a lack of name recognition and he probably does not need the extra money. But like an increasing number of A-list celebrities, he has come to see doing television spots as a good move.
By appearing in the ad, Mr. Dylan — who also has done a spot for Victoria’s Secret — gained exposure for his new CD, “Modern Times.” And Apple, of course, was thrilled to be associated with a rock legend.
Advertising agencies say they are finding more, and better, choices among celebrities for their campaigns. Oscar-winning actors like Nicole Kidman, Sally Field, Susan Sarandon, Diane Keaton and Robert De Niro no longer avoid the 30-second spot. At some point in the last five years, Hollywood snobbery toward commercials seemed to evaporate, leaving only a few actors holding out.
About 20 percent of ads in the United States feature celebrities, up from closer to 10 percent only a decade ago, said Hamish Pringle, director general of the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising in Britain, an industry group for British ad agencies, and the author of the book “Celebrity Sells.” “That old stigma that celebrities were selling out by doing a commercial has gone by the wayside,” said Linda Kaplan Thaler, the chief executive and creative officer of the Kaplan Thaler Group, an ad agency owned by the Publicis Groupe. “The days of Brad Pitt doing a commercial in Japan that he thought no one was going to see are gone.”
Indeed, Mr. Pitt made waves when he appeared in a Heineken commercial than ran in the United States during the 2005 Super Bowl. As recently as 2000, it was common for celebrities to negotiate contracts that kept commercials they made out of view in the United States. Many celebrities saw the TV spots as potentially harmful to their reputations back home, much the way Bill Murray’s character in “Lost in Translation” avoided making domestic ads.
Widespread Internet access, however, has made it hard to limit ads to one country, and dozens of foreign commercials starring actors like Arnold Schwarzenegger, George Clooney and Jennifer Aniston have found their way online in recent years.
But the Internet is only one reason many top celebrities are changing their tune, advertising executives said. Celebrities have also been swayed by higher production qualities in some commercials, the ability to help design products, or simply the competitive need to keep getting exposure in a world where stars are, in a sense, brands. And, of course, there is the money. Celebrities earn a few million dollars for a few days of work in commercials.
“Celebrities themselves are realizing their personal brand potential,” said Doug Lloyd, president of Lloyd & Company, an ad agency in New York.
Lloyd helped Estée Lauder develop ads starring Gwyneth Paltrow, who was “quite receptive” to participating when she was approached, Mr. Lloyd said. Ms. Paltrow also worked with Estée Lauder to develop a perfume that recently appeared in stores.
Celebrities who participate in product development often negotiate an equity stake for their work, entitling them to a share of that product’s earnings, said Ryan Schinman, president of Platinum Rye Entertainment, a company that helps advertisers hire celebrities.
Longer commercials, often lasting two to three minutes, have also become more popular among advertisers, who post them online and show them before movies in theaters. These minimovies are attractive to top actors because they often offer higher production qualities, leave more time to develop a short story and are sometimes shown in theaters.
“Stars are more inclined to be involved in an ad where there’s good production values and it’s shown on the big screen,” said Matthew Kearney, chief executive of Screenvision, a company that sells premovie commercial time on 14,000 screens in the United States.
The American Express campaign “My Life. My Card” included mini-movies shown in theaters that featured Robert De Niro and Ellen DeGeneres. Halle Berry and Julianne Moore have starred in Revlon minimovie ads and Nicole Kidman appeared in theaters in a Chanel ad directed by Baz Luhrmann.
And, despite A-list celebrity ads becoming more commonplace, one of the first of the Oscar-winning converts is out. T-Mobile said last month that it would not renew its contract next year with its celebrity spokeswoman, Catherine Zeta-Jones. Peter Dobrow, a T-Mobile spokesman, said the company would instead focus its ads on everyday people.
Musicians are also showing a new willingness to perform their music in commercials. Last spring, Shakira released a new song to Verizon Wireless users that they alone could listen to on their phones for two months
“I think these days it’s acceptable,” said Camille Hackney, senior vice president for brand partnership and commercial licensing at Atlantic Records, which is owned by the Warner Music Group. “In the artist community, you’re no longer vilified if you do it, and for consumers, it’s something that they come to expect.”
And those are good developments for marketers, which are requesting celebrity ads more than in the past, ad executives said.
“There’s a cachet to using known people,” said Rich Silverstein, co-chairman of Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, which is part of the Omnicom Group. “It’s a way to speed up the way information reaches customers.”
Matching companies with celebrities is not always easy. Mr. Silverstein said it was harder to recruit celebrities for ads with companies that had not traditionally used them. For example, Mr. Silverstein said he at first found recruiting celebrities for Hewlett-Packard’s “Personal Again” laptop campaign difficult because Hewlett-Packard had not advertised with them before.
As more advertisers have run celebrity ads, some research firms have started supplying data on the effectiveness of various stars. After receiving several client requests for more data on the value of celebrities, Marketing Management Analytics, a unit of the Aegis Group, developed a method four years ago to calculate how much particular celebrities contribute to advertising campaigns.
The company has found that stars often add significant value to commercials, but that value can differ based on the pairing of the celebrity and the company, said Ed See, chief operating officer of Marketing Management Analytics. Companies must carefully choose the celebrities they work with to make sure the celebrity’s image adds value to the company, he said.
“The stars are a brand,” Mr. See said. “Now you’re managing the confluence of two brands. You have the core brand and then you have the celebrity brand, and, when that confluence is positive, the impact can be tremendous.”
Mr. See said his company’s celebrity tracking showed that successful celebrity campaigns had a return on investment four times what it would have been without the celebrity. Celebrities, in some cases though, do not add any value.
Mr. Schinman of Platinum Rye Entertainment said companies had the most requests for Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, Angelina Jolie, Reese Witherspoon and George Clooney. But Mr. Schinman said that negotiations were lengthy and that some stars including Ms. Roberts and Ms. Witherspoon would do voice-overs but would not do commercials. Other holdouts, he said, include Bruce Springsteen, Jack Nicholson and Tom Hanks.
Louise Story, The New York Times. October 12, 2006
Copyright © 2006 The New York Times Company. All rights reserved.