When Mark Hamill and Sir Patrick Stewart appeared together in an ad for Uber Eats in September, it wasn’t just the Star Wars vs. Star Trek theme that caught our attention; it was also the first time either of them had appeared in a commercial.
In the past few months, we’ve seen a proliferation of actors in ads—and not always for high-profile brands. Since September alone, we've seen Rick Moranis return to the screen after a nearly 20-year hiatus to appear with the ubiquitous Ryan Reynolds in a spot for Mint Mobile; Bruce Willis in an ad for Advance Auto Parts; Alan Ruck reprising his role as Cameron Frye from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” in a commercial for garage door company LiftMaster; and Hugh Jackman appearing nearly naked in a spot for RM Williams, an Australian boot maker. Now David Schwimmer aka Ross from “Friends” is reportedly set to star in his first U.K. commercial, for British bank TSB. And this week, craft store Joann tapped Phyllis Smith of “The Office” to star in a webisode series.
At the same time, marketers are also bagging celebrity tie-ups; rapper Travis Scott became the first celebrity to get his name on a McDonald's menu item since Michael Jordan in 1992, and the Golden Arches' collab with singer J Balvin soon followed.
Of course, celebrity advertising is nothing new. But while A-Listers will often be prepared to star in the likes of a high-stakes Super Bowl spot, like Bill Murray in Jeep’s "Groundhog Day" effort this year, since the pandemic struck, many actors and entertainers have found themselves unemployed and at home, with their projects fallen through or put on hold. So, unsurprisingly, they’re happy to talk to brands.
“We’ve seen a lot more willingness of talent to do things that they wouldn’t necessarily have done before,” says Doug Shabelman, CEO and partner at Burns Entertainment, an entertainment agency that represents brands looking to hire celebrities or license music. The company worked on recent ads such as the LiftMaster spot with Alan Ruck (although that one was actually conceived and shot pre-pandemic). “A lot of celebrities are home, they are not doing productions of big movies and they also want to be paid, and to remain relevant.”
Money is certainly not the only factor, though, Shabelman adds. “It’s not necessarily about the dollar amount, although there may be discounts. It’s about willingness to do things they would not have done before.”
“Availability of talent trapped in their homes and able to record audio is exciting—the roster of voiceover talent has never been bigger or more willing,” says Christopher Keatinge, creative director at Uncommon, which worked on a May campaign for U.K. broadcaster ITV, featuring more than 20 celebrities on a giant Zoom call, to raise awareness of mental health.