Hollywood actors face new worry as reality commercials rise

Thu Feb 14, 2013 7:47pm EST
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By Sue Zeidler

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - For a recent TV commercial, H&R Block's advertising agency passed on using actors and instead chose Riley Holmes, who works at the tax preparer's Chicago office, to pitch the company's free "second look service" that claims it can find new deductions from prior returns.

"People bring in old tax returns and I'm like, 'Who did this to you?'" says Holmes in the 30-second TV commercial.

With hit reality shows luring viewers to just about every channel, H&R Block is among a growing number of companies, including Bayer, Best Buy Co Inc and Ford Motor Co, which are jumping on the trend and casting their own "real housewives" and other folks who don't act for a living in spots.

Advertisers' growing use of "real" folks in commercials is among a growing list of challenges facing actors as the union representing 165,000 actors and media professionals, begins bargaining on Thursday on a new three-year-contract. Industry negotiators are expected to resist efforts to raise actors' rates for the increasing number of commercials that appear online.

"People want the real cancer survivor, the real doctor, real fire eater," said Carol Lynn Sher, who works for the CESD Talent Agency in Los Angeles. "Fewer actors being used for those roles and its taking away jobs."

Many already chafe as they watch a growing number of A-List actors - Robin Williams in a Snickers bar commercial or Sofia Vergara for Pepsi - take jobs that used to go to them.

"My 13-year-old daughter Francesca has been auditioning for commercials for five years, and it's harder than ever because now they want kids to be real ballerinas, real violinists or real gymnasts," said Toni Farina, mother of a Los Angeles-based young actress.

The issue of real life people taking actors jobs isn't likely to be formally addressed in the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) advertising negotiations.   Continued...

A view of the Hollywood sign in the Hollywood Hills in Hollywood, California in this December 13, 2009 file photo. REUTERS/Fred Prouser/Files