(Editor’s note: You know what? We needed a break from writing about Brexit and expats. Well, at least until later today.)
George Clooney, Johnny Depp or Al Pacino hawking stuff on American TV, or in magazines? Out of the question. These legendary stars have reputations to protect ….
So why do so many of these movie A-listers, who would never deign to do television advertising at home, show up in adverts overseas that only expats get to see? (There are also plenty of B-listers, too, like Arnold Schwartzenegger, Bruce Willis and Sylvester Stallone,)
Well, for one thing, give them credit for some artistic integrity. Those adverts in Europe are really, really funny – and really, really good. European creative agencies seem to achieve a level of humor, style and panache – practically without trying – American shops miss, even in their sweatiest, hardest-working desperation.
In the “I Want In” ad for Nespresso coffeemakers, George Clooney tutors Danny DeVito on how to be cool. The spot recently got raves from Canadian critic and novelist Rick Salutin as one of the best things Clooney has done lately. (Which, considering “Hail, Caesar,” ain’t sayin’ a lot.) And it’s just one in the long-running “What Else” series for Nespresso that includes Jack Black, John Malkovich and other stars. It’s a series that’s had way more sequels than “Oceans 11.”
Oh, a word to the wise: Best not to bring up the whole “sell out” thing to George.
From his famous 2012 rant during a Newsweek Oscars Roundtable:
I’m trying to make movies in my life … that last longer than opening weekend. That’s it, that’s my whole goal. I don’t have to make money; I do films for scale and then, you know, I go do coffee commercials overseas, and I make a lot of money so I get to live in a nice house. … And I don’t give a sh-t. And people will go, ‘Oh that’s a sellout.’ And you know what? F–k you.
The guy has been doing ads in Europe since at least 2002, so he’s made a bunch of money. You know, it wasn’t “Oh, Brother Where Art Thou?” that paid for that villa on Lake Como ….
So, how much money we talking here? Well, the trades have reported Julia Roberts got 1.2 million euros for one 45-second ad. In which she never said a word.
But there are lots more. Soooo many more:
• A clueless, distracted Al Pacino does an offbeat ad for Sky Fibre Broadband.
• Another broadband provider, BT Infinity, is running an ad campaign featuring Ryan Reynolds.
• Snoop Dogg, of all people, appears in ads for the MoneySuperMarket and the mobile firm, Orange. (Dennis Hopper, Angelica Huston, Rob Lowe, Macauly Culkin, Steven Seagal, Carrie Fisher and Patrick Swayze have all appeared in the Orange campaigns, as well, created by the ad agency Mother London.)
• Julia Roberts brings glamour to an ad for Lancome’s La Vie est Belle perfume, and Charlize Theron does the same for J’Adore Dior.
• “Sex in the City” start Sarah Jessica Parker is the new spokesperson for the Blokker chain of stores based in The Netherlands, a spot that drives Dispatches co-founder Terry Boyd absolutely meshuga every time it comes on.
• Kevin Bacon is the spokesperson for the EE digital network in Great Britain.
• And Harvey Keitel does his Pulp Fiction/Winston Wolf character (“I fix problems”) for Direct Line Insurance in the UK.
For good European advertising, it’s not only the biggest American names who sign on. A Snickers ad in the UK features Mr. T (a C-lister, but he was big in the ’80s. But it’s really funny.)
Take a look at some:
And while our stars are soaking up all this exposure (and – let’s just say it – cash) in Europe, they’re holding onto their integrity back home, because nobody will see the ads. George Clooney’s image, as the high-minded, unsullied protector of the earth, will remain his and 742 million Europeans’ little secret. (Except, of course, that in this age of Youtube there are no little secrets anymore. There is no more “nobody will see this” or “it’s just between us.”) Which means there’s a very real danger of blow back in all this. Johnny Depp’s (truly odd) new ads for Dior got scorched on Twitter because they debuted too soon after allegations he abused former wife Amber Heard.
But they’re all there because, frankly, the pay is so good. Europeans adore American film stars, and a Julia Roberts sighting in a local ad is probably worth every penny she gets paid for it.
And the pay has to be good to get these actors to do such devastating takes on their dignity, piercing their very well-honed images. Take the Pacino ad for Sky. Two British computer repair people show up in a fancy home marked by classic architecture, iron gates and lots of marble. The homeowner is not to be found, though you know he or she must be eccentric because of the peacock wandering around the large rooms and the Italian opera music coming from somewhere.
The two dogged visitors venture further into the house, where they come upon the owner – Pacino in his robe, playing golf off the top of his piano, muttering about life tips he got from somewhere. (“Slow down . . . know your limits . . . my attorney, my cardiologist, now my computer.”) The advert ends with Pacino at the piano bench, one of the computer people sitting on top of the piano and the other one practicing his putting – with a Viking helmet on his head.
No attack on image is safe in these ads. Snoop Dogg engages in a heated conversation with a member of the fictitious Orange Film Board who wants him to insert promotional references about off-peak mobile calls into his new recording.
“That ain’t my stizzle dizzle,” says Snoop.
“Well, I finance this film, so I’ll do as I dizzle,” retorts the (very Caucasian) executive, who ends up forced to do the rap himself when Snoop and his musicians walk out.
And, in fact, the European ad-makers do finance all this wizzle.
“What prompted [Snoop Dogg] to attach his persona to this abysmal piece of stale cheese?” asked The Guardian, referring to an ad the rapper made for the MoneySuperMarket, about buying car insurance. “Financial desperation? But it is surely a long time, if ever, since Snoop had to shop around for his car insurance. Shamelessness? Surely Snoop has blotted the integrity of the hip-hop community by cheaply committing to this shoddy endorsement.
“For Snoop, you suspect, money is money and when MoneySuperMarket drove up with a truckful of it he was happy to have them throw more of it on his own, giant pile in return for half a day of filming. His sheer mercenary detachment ensures that the Snoop aura remains undimmed, even enhanced.
“You’re so money, Snoop.”