McDonald's says Spears, N'Sync knew they were breaking strike

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Teen pop singers Britney Spears and N'Sync knew they were crossing the picket line to shoot McDonald's Corp. commercials breaking the week of July 24, said a spokesman for the burger giant.

"Yes, we knew and so did they,'' the spokesman said. He further denied reports earlier this week in Hollywood trade papers that the adolescent stars were misled into believing that the Canadian-shot commercials wouldn't be in violation of the commercial actors strike.

"McDonald's and its agencies did not mislead Britney or N'Sync regarding these commercials,'' he said, noting that the contracts between the Oak Brook, Ill.-based fast-feeder and singers were signed well before the strike began. They went ahead with the shoot, he said, "because we have contractual obligations to a number of partners.''

Calls to the artists' management were referred to their public relations counsel, who didn't return phone calls. Representatives at McDonald's agency Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, referred calls to McDonald's.

Following the reports that they had appeared in the spots, Ms. Spears and the members of 'N Sync on July 24 endorsed the actors unions' strike against the advertising industry, saying they wouldn't appear in commercials until the strike ends. She and the boy band each will donate to the Screen Actors Guild Foundation $1 from every ticket sold to their July 29 and 30 concerts.

The singers will appear in seven McDonald's spots breaking July 27, including three 15-second teasers, three 30-second spots and one :60 for McDonald's summer music and video promotion featuring the artists. The commercials represent the first McDonald's ad work shot during the strike.

Observers of the situation said confusing language in the collective bargaining agreements with SAG and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists exacerbates the issue. "The language is not black and white so different people read it different ways, often to serve their end,'' said Eliot Ephraim, an attorney/agent for TV news talent including movie critic Roger Ebert. "The fact that [unions] take the position it is against the agreement for this to be done doesn't necessarily mean the language bears that out. . . . [On the other hand] lawyers' jobs are to come up with readings that benefit their clients.''

Still others questioned whether the singers were mistakenly relying on their agents to look out for their best interests. "If [their agents] were thinking they might slip one past the union [and in so doing put] Britney and N'Sync in a difficult position, I would not say that was great judgment, Mr. Ephraim said. "Ultimately, nobody looks good in this.''

Copyright July 2000, Crain Communications Inc.

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