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The Winston-Salem Journal
  |   Feb. 9, 2005
Sunday, February 6, 2005
Star Power: Big names doing ads for U.S. market


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Brad Pitt used to hawk $2,800 watches in Europe while staying out of U.S. ads. Today on American television during the Super Bowl, he'll be pushing beer.

Pitt will appear in a 60-second ad for Heineken NV beer on News Corp.'s Fox television broadcast, according to a person familiar with the commercial. With that, Pitt joins international stars flacking products in the United States, including Robert De Niro and Nicole Kidman.

Stars formerly confined their lucrative advertising ventures to outside U.S. borders for fear of sullying their image at home. A year after Bill Murray received an Oscar nomination for his role as a self-loathing actor shilling for Japanese whiskey in Lost in Translation, the rules are changing, said Hamish Pringle, the director general of the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, a trade group in London.

"Stars have become more comfortable," said Pringle, the author of Celebrity Sells, a book charting the history of stars in advertising. "As soon as one or two leading lights do a commercial and it becomes legitimate, others follow."

The broadcast of the Super Bowl, the National Football League's championship game, is traditionally the country's premier advertising event. It has been the most-watched TV show every year since 1995, and last year's game attracted 41.4 percent of the 108.4 million U.S. households with televisions.

News Corp. is charging a record $2.4 million, on average, for a 30-second ad for this year's Super Bowl, up from $2.25 million for the 2004 broadcast. Pizza Hut and Budweiser will advertise alongside Heineken. The game at Alltel Stadium in Jacksonville, Fla., pits the New England Patriots against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Nicole McNaughton, a spokeswoman for Heineken, said only that the company's commercial is directed by David Fincher, who worked with Pitt, 41, on the movies Se7en and Fight Club and that its star is "one of Hollywood's hottest personalities." A person familiar with the campaign confirmed details of the ad.

Pitt is one of a handful of film actors who are recognized worldwide appearing in a U.S. commercial for the first time.

De Niro, 61, is starring in a spot for American Express Co.

and Kidman, 37, is promoting Chanel SA's No. 5 perfume. Both campaigns made their debuts in November.

Unlike Kidman and De Niro, Pitt has appeared in Japanese and European ads. In

various spots he has driven Honda cars, worn Rolex and Tag Heuer watches and donned Edwin jeans.

Although most actors accept advertising work early in their careers, they often shun commercials after becoming image-conscious superstars, said Cary Berman, the head of the commercial division at the William Morris Agency in Los Angeles. Resistance is breaking down because high-profile ads now have production values similar to movies, he said.

"There's a lot of value in advertising and a lot of value for the celebrity to be involved in it," said Berman, who has negotiated advertising deals for Bruce Willis, Ashley Judd and Catherine Zeta-Jones in the United States and abroad.

"We see our clients as brands. It's all about growing a brand," Berman said.

The United States is the world's largest movie market by sales, with box office receipts of $9.21 billion in 2004, according to market researcher Nielsen EDI.

Berman said that one way to attract talent is to hire a director the actor likes and respects, in what the industry calls an "event" ad.

"The appeal of some of these individuals has certainly worked well for us," said Judy Tenzer, aspokeswoman for American Express.

Kidman has been named by Guinness World Records as the highest-paid commercial actor ever, based on the amount she received a minute. The 2005 edition of the Guinness book said she made $3.7 million to appear in the Chanel ad.

Spokesmen for Pitt, Kidman and De Niro wouldn't confirm how much the actors were paid for the ads. Berman said that a top celebrity can make more than $10 million a year for a major campaign.

Current ad campaigns that are geographically restricted include one in which George Clooney, 43, promotes Martini & Rossi SpA vermouth in the U.K. Pitt's estranged wife, Jennifer Aniston, 35, appeared last year in campaigns for Barclays Plc in the U.K. and Heineken in mainland Europe.

It's unlikely that some of Pitt's other ad efforts will ever be screened in the United States. He also appears in a European print campaign for LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SA's Tag Heuer watches. On the back cover of the Jan. 24 issue of Newsweek's European edition, he models the Carrera Tachymeter, which can cost about $2,800.

At Pitt's request, the ads won't be seen in the United States, said Tag Heuer Chief Executive Officer Jean-Christophe Babin. "They have strict image and exposure conditions," Babin said. "For a luxury brand, that's perfect because we have strict conditions, too."

Babin said that Tag Heuer spends about 90 million euros ($117 million) advertising its products each year. Babin wouldn't specify how much the company paid Pitt and Uma Thurman to appear in ads. "They are not costly," he said. "They are very cost-efficient in terms of the benefits we get."

Berman of William Morris said that Pitt's ad appearance today comes with an element of risk. "The question isn't whether it will help him, because he is a triple-A star," he said. "The question is whether it can hurt him. If it's a great commercial, it's not going to hurt at all."

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