American actors in foreign (but not US) commercials. Why?

If you search YouTube for “*** commercial,” where *** is the name of a big-time movie actor, you find that a fair number of them have starred in TV commercials in foreign countries, but not in the US. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Tommy Lee Jones have done commercials in Japan, Chevy Chase did one in Turkey. It was even a key plot point in the movie Lost In Translation: Bill Murray played an actor filing a TV commercial in Japan.

So why do these actors film commercials that are shown in other countries, but not in the US? I would think they could charge more money for an ad that was going to be shown to a larger audience (I’m assuming here that the US TV audience is much bigger than that of, say, Japan or Turkey). Is it a concern for the impact on their public image? If so, why would US commercials negatively impact their images, but commercials shown in other countries won’t?

Anyone got insight?

I have been led to believe/informed that it is a way to make money without damaging reputation with your core fan-base. The majority of their fans won’t see the commercials, and probably won’t even be aware of their existence.
Also: It probably helps them not get typecast. So people won’t automatically think “[insert whatever product was being advertised here]” when they see Arnie. When people in the UK see Gary Linneker they thing ‘Walkers Crisps’ rather than ‘Talented former international Footballer’

The audience watching a given channel at a specific time (thus watching the ad) is the only thing that matters, not the total TV audience. A popular show in Japan will have more viewers than a less popular show in the US.

In fact, given the massive choice available to US TV viewers, viewing figures for any given channel are far lower than one would expect if you based it only on population. The audience is very dispersed and diluted in the US. A small country with fewer channels can pull off higher viewing figures for a given show or channel.

At the logical extreme (there’s no such country, of course - it’s an exaggeration), a country with 100M people watching but only one channel will have viewing figures of 100M. In the US, those same 100M people will be watching 200 channels, giveing average viewing figures of 5M. So the smaller country is 20 times more lucrative.

This is sometimes called "Japandering. The explanations I have heard fit with what Lobsang says; these actors don’t want to damage their reputation by having Americans see them sell out for a commercial.

This was pretty true ten years ago, but now I see more and more respectable actors selling stuff on TV. The same is true for serious film actors who wouldn’t be caught dead on a TV show, especially since it would stall their career otherwise due to the longer hours committed to one thing. Now they’re all over the place. The show “Damages” for example has Glenn Close, Martin Short, Ted Danson, and William Hurt. Now you see real celebrities shilling makeup and insurance.

My uninformed guess would have been that these stars are contractually tied to some American company whose ambassador, or whatever fancy word they use to describe that, they are. Such contracts are often exclusive, but if the exclusivity clause is restricted to particular markets, then they would still be free to do TV ads elsewhere.

Even Joey Tribbiani did it!:

I’m not an actor at all, but when I did a TV commercial (voice over) in the Republic of Georgia, I was basically found on the street and singled out because I was a native speaker and that’s what they wanted. I’m guessing that if they could have gotten Arnold Schwarzenegger to do it, they would have.

Top actors don’t do commercials because they feel it hurts their image (“Gee, is Clooney doing a commercial? Guess his career is in the toilet.”)

In general, there is a hierarchy of appearances: first movies (and the bigger the budget, the higher you are), then TV guest shot, then TV regulars, then commercials*. If you’re doing commercials, it can hurt you when you try to negotiate payment for a movie.

Commercials in other countries, however, aren’t seen by your domestic fans and, more importantly, they aren’t seen by Hollywood producers, who thus won’t use them against you when you’re negotiating a contract (“I’m doing you a favor giving you this film role; you have to shill for XX”).

Another reason is that the Japanese commercials typically pay celebrities far more than the equivalent commercial in the US.

*Stage appearances are outside the hierarchy.

Yup. Read what Ewan McGregor said about his Japanese ads.

From TalkTalk Biography:

It’s all about reputation. When I was growing up, my friend’s father was a working actor. He made a good living doing guest spots on TV series and supporting actor rolls in major movies. He wouldn’t do commercials if they were going to be shown in the L.A. area because he didn’t want people in The Business to see them.

Jerry Seinfeld and Greater Building Society, Newcastle, Australia.
A fine company no doubt, but strikes me as an odd mismatch in “famousosity”

Interestingly (to me, anyway) a lot of big name actors will do voice work in commercials in the US. I think it’s because most of the public really doesn’t pick out that it’s so-and-so doing the narration in the commercial.

This article is a little old, but it gets the point across.

George Clooney is doing ads though- for Nescafe. With John Malkovich in one of them. Yes, they’re awesome ads. :slight_smile:

There’s another one for a brand of ice-cream with Benicio Del Toro in it, and another one with Al Pacino talking about how much he loves a particular brand of coffee.

So yeah, unless Australia’s become the new Japan for this sort of thing, I’d say the stigma for film actors flogging stuff on TV is considerably less than it used to be.

Several of the ads mentioned by Martini Enfield run in Europe as well (the Nescafe ads are all over the continent); I haven’t seen the Del Toro one, but ice-cream brands tend to be local.

I strongly doubt Iggy Pop or Quentin Tarantino’s images will be “in the drain” for advertising whisky, but hey, who knows… are the works of those two supposed to be in the “family-appropriate” shelves now?

I’m going by memory, so details may be fuzzy, but I’m not making this up. Back in the 70s I guess, Bob Newhart had a bit about this, before actors really sold out: he began by saying Eleanor Roosevelt made a splash by appearing in an ad, but it was okay, because her salary went to a charity.

The bit got funny when he took a huge celebrity (Laurence Olivier) and, due to time constraints, didn’t get a chance to read the script, so Sir Laurence had no idea what product he was pushing. But it was all good, because he donated his salary to charity. The opening was something like:

“Hello, I’m Laurence Olivier. I’m sure many of you, like I, have suffered from irregularity…wait a minute. Stop the camera. Um, I don’t mean to be impolite, but…irregularity? I know, I know, the money’s going to a charity, and I’m all for that, but…” and so on. It was a very funny bit.

So for one thing, it’s been going on for a long time, and two, I believe it’s about reputation.

And three, just to gild the lily a little more, MAD had an article (or more than one) about sports stars shilling. I only mention that to show that it’s hardly new, even though I don’t think anyone doubts that. Still and all, no one’s mentioned any older actors–they’re all more recent.

With the advent of the internet, actors can’t hide their foreign commercials anymore. I guess that’s why I see so many celebrities advertising makeup instead of bona fide models.

The thing is, I think many people can pick out the actor - you don’t get Sean Connery to do voice over work and think that voice will slip by unnoticed. It seems to be that, from maybe sometime in the '70s until a few years ago, commercial work was something that only unknown actors could get. It didn’t pay great, plus companies wanted you to think that “people like you” bought and used the product. Then you saw the celebrity voice over which somehow was better for the celebrity and the product - the product is still being used or enjoyed by people who look like your or your neighbours, but having George Clooney or Sandra Bullock doing the voice work it seems like a legit product.

And I’ve seen Dustin Hoffman, Sean Bean, Morgan Freeman, and others in just the last few days. They’re all at it.

Just a thought… going back to the 1920’s , and looking at the whole Hollywood phenomenon… actors have generally been regarded as some kind of “royalty” ,or, landed gentry in the Land of Make Believe… chuckle… thee jewels and gowns they wear on the red carpet are mostly lent to them and boy are they fabulous and decadent… the fact is , they cannot afford the lifestyle they try to represent ( entitled royalty) and have to work between film assignments, using their fame and faces to peddle just about anything offered to them to make those extra bucks!

THAT reply was in answer to anyone who had wondered why the actors try to keep it on the hush hush