Overpaid and over here: ads draw US stars

Trash television may have taken over large parts of the schedules but commercial breaks now offer the opportunity to see more shining stars than Patrick Moore could identify on a clear night in Sussex.

George Clooney is the latest Hollywood actor to agree to take part in a British ad campaign, appearing alongside his model girlfriend, Lisa Snowdon, in a commercial for Martini.

Clooney joins the likes of Samuel L Jackson, Jennifer Aniston, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall and Nicole Kidman as yet another member of the Hollywood A-list happy to appear on British television as the kettle is being put on.

The trend is a remarkable one given that most of these stars would not be seen dead appearing in commercials back home in the States. Claire Beale, editor of Campaign, the weekly advertising industry magazine, said: "Hollywood actors have been happy to do ads in far-flung countries in Asia where they didn't think the work would damage their credibility. It's interesting that they now don't see any harm to their careers from doing an ad here."

Clooney filmed the Martini ad in Italy, where he has a home, but has agreed to it being shown in Britain. The campaign shows the ER and Ocean's Eleven star at a party with his glamorous friends. His only line is "Ciao" but the Italian campaign has been altered so that he is endorsing Vermouth rather than the original Asti Spumante.

The campaign follows Cattrall's work for Tetley Tea, for whom the Sex and the City star was filmed popping round to her aunt's for a cuppa.

Jennifer Aniston, like Samuel L Jackson before her, has become a face of Barclaycard, while Ms Cattrall's Sex and the City co-star Sarah Jessica Parker endorses Gap, as does the rap star Missy Elliott, who also fronts the latest Virgin Mobile campaign. Ms Beale said: "It's great for UK advertisers that they are managing to lure this talent - every advertiser is looking for cut-through in an increasingly cluttered advertising environment, and if you have got a big celebrity name then people are going to be paying attention from the moment the ad comes on air."

But the appearance of Hollywood stars in British ads is something of a back-handed compliment.

Mark Wnek, a senior advertising industry figure, said: "The reason these American stars are willing to do this is because frankly they don't care about England or Japan, they only care about America. It's a bit of easy money that's not going to compromise their art."

The willingness of American film stars to shoot commercials overseas was the subject of the Oscar-winning love story Lost in Translation.

The first British adman to exploit the power of celebrity was Frank Lowe, who brought in the comedians Morecambe and Wise to work with the racing driver James Hunt on Texaco ads in the Seventies.

Mr Wnek was responsible for using the actor Rutger Hauer in campaigns for Guinness. He said the use of celebrities did not guarantee a successful campaign and needed to be based on solid research that showed that consumers would respond well to the chosen star.

He said: "For my money the use of Kim Cattrall is appallingly shoe-horned. There's a dissonance there which doesn't work and I don't think people buy that."

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