It all ads up
A star turn in an advert can add thousands to a celebrity's bank account, but when it goes wrong, it can make them a laughing stock, says Declan Cashin
If you happen to detect a distinct whiff from Brad Pitt of late – you know, when you're just hanging out with him, as you do – it might be a result of his recent, high-profile conversion to Chanel No 5 as the first male face of the product.
Alternatively, that pong could simply be due to the Augean Stables-levels of pretentious, faux-profound bullsh*t the actor sprouts in his new advert for the famous scent.
In a black-and-white promo that rivals even Brad's film 'The Tree of Life' in its opaque head-up-its-own-arse-ry, Pitt, sporting his 'Legends of the Fall'-era long hair, intones, "It's not a journey. Every journey ends but we go on."
Then comes the killer line, delivered straight to camera. "Plans disappear, dreams take over, but wherever I go, there you are."
His eyes drop thoughtfully. "My luck, my fate, my fortune." Cut to an image of the perfume bottle. "Chanel No 5," Brad finishes. "Inevitable."
Stirring stuff, isn't it? Indeed, if that doesn't violently stir the contents of your stomach and push it up through your oesophagus and out through your nose and mouth in a spectacular explosion, then best check your pulse because you might already be dead.
Needless to say, the 'Bradvert' has come in for an almighty kicking since its debut last month, inspiring a series of online spoofs and redubs that struggle to parody the almost unparody-able.
Still, smirk all you want, but Brad's contract with Chanel is believed to be worth "somewhere in the seven-figure range", according to reports.
Yes, the advert is – wait for it – the pitts, but imprinting a barcode on your soul doesn't seem as bad when it's as well compensated as this.
Endorsement and advertisement deals are tricky ones for celebrities. On the one hand, it's money for jam, where filming a few risible TV spots could earn you a handy little top-up on your film salary without having to commit to a movie or other project for months on end.
Who wouldn't similarly shill if given half the chance?
But, on the other hand, the resulting output can make you a laughing stock and – even worse for sensitive stars who consider themselves 'artists' – leave you open to charges of hypocrisy and selling out. Heaven forfend!
Take the case of singer Mary J Blige. She got into trouble earlier this year by filming an advert for Burger King that was subsequently pulled faster than it takes to get served a milkshake after cultural commentators lambasted the star for putting her face, name and music to an ad that allegedly reinforced negative stereotypes about the African-American community and diet.
Ouch. Still, at least Blige and indeed Burger King were both aiming high by pursuing big, established names for a commercial match-up.
Compare that to Martine McCutcheon enthusiastically gunning for Activia yogurt, a sight that leaves this viewer feeling just a little bit sad.
Oh Martine, the future once looked so bright, playing leading lady to Hugh Grant, launching a pop career, making plans to conquer Tinseltown.
Now, alas, we get to forever associate you with gastrointestinal concerns.
Of course, there once seemed to be an obvious solution to the creative/financial struggle that actors suffer when choosing endorsement gigs: sign up for deals in far-flung parts of the world that most of the Western world never get to see.
Alas, in the age of the internet, that plan doesn't hold water any longer.
Japan is the key market for lucrative gigs that slebs don't want us to know about – what 'Weekend' likes to call 'the hawk of shame' market.
And sure enough, the bold Brad Pitt has some form in this regard. A few years ago, he filmed a spot (available on YouTube) for Roots Iced Coffee in which he plays an office worker alone on his floor, who proceeds to dance and flounce about the place with his chair – and one time with a bin on his head – before the rest of his colleagues arrive.
In another ad for the company, Pitt once more plays a corporate drone struggling to get the photocopier to work.
But after cracking open a can of Roots Iced Coffee, he gets the bright idea of pushing the machine to the nearest stairwell and tossing it down the steps.
Quite how either of these spots are supposed to portray the drink in a positive light are unclear – 'Find crazy/sackable/sectionable solutions to everyday problems!' – but the point of the Japan-oriented celeb adverts isn't for them to be logical or obvious.
Indeed, it's clearly a market that's sympathetic to, if not positively encouraging of, the more out-there and bonkers creative endeavours.
A couple of years ago, the famously, erm, colourful actor filmed a spot for the games company Fever Pachinko, in which he became bamboozled and increasingly animated – as only Cage can render – upon meeting three pneumatic blonde female triplets during a fan signing.
Look it up on YouTube – and thank us later.
I tell you, viewing that is a quantum leap of imagination for an Irish viewer reared on watching 'Glenroe's' Biddy and Fidelma extolling the virtues of Surf and its 99-stains-combating magic.
Arnold Schwarzenegger is another star who has conquered the crazy advert sector in the land of the rising sun.
Over the years, the former 'Governator' has filmed a series of spots for Alinamin V Energy Drink.
A word of warning: if you're right now looking up Arnie's ads over your breakfast, we want to reassure you that your orange juice has not been spiked – these promos actually exist.
In one, Arnie emerges out of a bottle of the drink like a genie, laughing maniacally, which then cuts to him resplendent in jewels and riches, tossing gold coins all around him (while laughing maniacally some more).
Another sees him playing a board game with a group of Japanese friends, at which he appears to be losing.
But after a swig of V, he flies – literally – back to the table, and suddenly his main competitor gets buried in what looks like either reams of shredded paper or, as one comment on YouTube suggests, tampons – all while Arnie, you guessed it, laughs maniacally.
In an advert for Calorie Mate snacks, Sutherland is seen sitting in the back of a van with some other guys on their way to an unspecified mission.
As he chews on his healthy product, one of his colleagues eats a doughnut and then starts on the actor, getting up close to his face and throwing milk around the van.
Our boy gets mad and the doughnut-eater gets thrown from the back of the vehicle.
Other spots similarly riff on Sutherland's Jack Bauer persona from the famous TV show.
In another ad, he pursues a group of Japanese girls who are drinking a Calorie Mate potion on a busy subway train.
He's orgasmically shouting "Yes!" during his chase until he gets his hands on one of the drinks.
Yes, it's as creepy and mortifying as it sounds.
But don't worry Kiefer, sure, aren't they all at it?
A particular favourite in the morto-advert canon is Drew Barrymore plugging green-tea flavour Baskin Robbins ice cream in a South Korean commercial.
In the spot, Barrymore is perusing a magazine stand, dressed in a Carrie Bradshaw-esque pink dress, with a giant ice-cream cone in her hand, when she notices she's getting the glad eye from a pretty boy next to her.
She then starts to lick the ice cream in a very suggestive, slow-mo manner, giving the bloke her best coquettish glance, before the loaded slogan 'Ice Cream and City' pops up on screen.
Oh, now I get it!
Natalie Portman also imparts healthy feminist messages in her gig for Lux shampoo for the Japanese market.
In it, she plays an actress auditioning for a sword-fighting role. After turning up for her audition in tight leather bodysuit (natch), Portman proceeds to perform her moves with a sword in front of a table of hunky (natch, again) casting directors.
But I'm missing the most important part. All the while, her shiny, glossy hair flows and undulates, implying not at all subtly that no matter how skilled or talented you might be, nothing will seal the deal, professionally or otherwise, like a mane of beautiful, flickable tresses.
I think you'll agree that's a – nay, the – vital lesson for any modern lass to learn.