Striking creative

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The old saw "the show must go on" now describes Madison Ave.'s attitude.

Marketers and ad agencies have ensured that the 21-week-old Screen Actors Guild/American Federation of Television & Radio Artists strike doesn't draw the curtain on their advertising plans.

The American public may miss out on new ads with strike-honoring celebrities and TV ad icons such as Priceline's William Shatner and Ameritrade's Stuart character, but audiences now are watching a new cast of characters. Non-union actors, company employees, Olympic athletes and high-tech graphics dot the TV advertising landscape.

The New York Lottery's latest ad effort features "ball girl" Yolanda, the woman who reads out the numbers on the nightly drawings. General Motors Corp. used company engineers to tout innovative vehicle technologies developed for its GMC truck. Saturn Corp. featured factory workers in its new brand commercials.


With agency executives saying good voice-overs are hard to come by during the strike, many non-union talents are warming up their vocal chords for commercial try-outs. This summer, Crispin Porter Bogusky Chairman Chuck Porter joined the host of ad agency executives and employees who have provided voice-overs for their clients' advertising.

Subway Restaurants worked around the SAG strike by re-airing a pre-strike effort that featured successful dieter and Subway patron Jared Fogle. But the chain hit a snag with its August branding campaign from new agency Messner Vetere Berger McNamee Schmetterer/Euro RSCG, New York. The spots were originally slated to feature celebrity voice-overs, including comedian Gilbert Godfrey as the voice of the plucky spokes-shadow puppet. Mr. Godfrey and two other actors declined to cross the picket line to make the spots, so the company went with non-union voice actors.

"It didn't come out the way I preferred," said Chris Carroll, director of marketing for Subway Franchisee Advertising Fund Trust. Nonetheless, same-store sales increases have stayed in the 20% range, he said.

Other celebrity dropouts put agencies in the position of recutting spots and adding substitute stars. In a Dark & Lovely ad, L'Oreal USA replaced singer Mary J. Blige with a handful of unknown models. Bayer Consumer Care's Phillips' Milk of Magnesia replaced its two stars, Raymond and Maureen, with a different creative strategy that allowed it to move away from the ongoing soap opera between the two characters.

Olympic athletes such as Suzy Hamilton, Michael Johnson and Marion Jones joined the ranks of athletes who broke the picket line. Champion cyclist Lance Armstrong, golfing great Tiger Woods, National Basketball Association giant Shaquille O'Neal and National Football League receiver Keyshawn Johnson all starred in ads that ran during the strike.

Agencies also tinkered with production techniques to get their ads out. Y&R Advertising Exec VP-Director of Broadcast Production Ken Yagoda said Y&R avoided casting headaches by hiring non-union talent. "It's kind of a non-event," he said. "We're just going ahead."


However, he did note he has tweaked production on some spots. "There's considerably less reliance on dialog," Mr. Yagoda said. "We're doing a lot more work with graphics, a lot more visual orientation."

As the strike lingers, GSD&M, Austin, Texas, is currently in production on a spot that features existing footage of an undisclosed celebrity mixed with animation.

The Joint Policy Committee on talent relations for the Association of National Advertisers and the American Association of Advertising Agencies recently said the industry produced 16% more commercials in August -- 2,010 -- than in July. Advertisers have been at 80% production capacity compared with last year, according to the committee.

Contributing: Jean Halliday, Kate MacArthur, Mercedes M. Cardona, Tobi Elkin.

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