Magazine article Marketing

A High Price for Celebrity?

Magazine article Marketing

A High Price for Celebrity?

Article excerpt

There was a time when you couldn't get through an average commercial break without spotting a whole collection of famous actors earning enough for a mansion in Hampstead by lending their faces to advertising.

But the nine-month long Equity dispute has changed all this. Since September the union has recommended that all its 39,000 members should not appear in ads. An initial falling out with advertising agencies over plans to reduce royalties paid to voiceover actors has now escalated to affect actors who appear on screen in commercials.

Last week the advertising industry's trade group, the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, together with the clients' representative, The Incorporated Society of British Advertisers, met to discuss their negotiating stance. They concluded that further talks would only proceed if the union "drops its pre-condition [to talks] that any new agreement must provide for the same structure and scale of fee payments for non-visual as for visual artists".

Given Equity's unequivocal stance throughout the strike, it seems unlikely that this will encourage them back to the negotiating table.

Restrictive practice

So has this proved disastrous for advertising? Research conducted for Marketing last weekend by NOP found that less than half of the consumers polled pay more attention to an ad if it features a famous actor or actress- a blow to all those advertisers who have relied on the talents of Harry Enfield, Joanna Lumley et al.

Most of the 20 marketers contacted by Marketing this week had not noticed any dramatic differences in the way new ads were being put together, although some acknowledged the limitations of not being able to use celebrities.

Given that lead times can often be six months for ad production, it will be well into the spring before we start to notice a real lack of new commercials featuring familiar faces.

Having a restricted number of British actors has meant that creatives have simply had to think harder. Many have gone abroad to cast ads, with Ireland, South Africa and the US being popular hunting grounds.

Although the US version of Equity, the Screen Actors Guild, is solidly behind its British counterpart, certain States have a 'Right to Work' clause in legislation, which effectively allows people to break strikes.

Overseas casting can create problems of its own. Carole Humphrey, managing director of Grand Central Sound Studios, says she is coming across increasing numbers of ads shot in South Africa. "In some of them you can discern what are clearly South African accents in actors supposed to be British."

Breaking point

In Britain, a spokesman for Equity talks of solid support among its members for backing the strike, but some agency creative heads report that many actors are still prepared to appear in ads, albeit in a low-profile manner.

"There are so many actors out there looking for a break that many of them will still work, either because of the need for money or the need to get their career off the ground," said one head of TV at a London ad agency.

Need for money was the reason cited by Steven Berkoff last week when it was revealed that the cult actor had become the first well-known name to break the strike. Berkoff has been signed up by Leo Burnett to record voiceovers for McDonald's.

Agencies have also been adopting unorthodox means to cast ads. …

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