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This story first appeared in the Sept. 20 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Predictably, A-listers are the most-prized targets on Madison Avenue. Although every deal is unique, one top commercial agent says he’s seeing more eight-figure paydays than ever before. Long-term relationships have become a key way to optimize revenue, says another endorsement agent who, when it comes to beauty deals for his top female talent, only fields multiyear offers.
Charlize Theron struck gold with her gilded J’Adore ads, spinning her initial three-year deal with Dior (reportedly worth $5 million annually when she signed in 2004) into an iconic partnership nearly a decade later. The fashion house might hope its new arrangement with Robert Pattinson works just as well, as it is paying him at least $12 million to represent its Dior Homme fragrance for the next three years.
PHOTOS: The New A-List: 23 Salaries From Angelina Jolie to Robert Downey Jr. Revealed
With bigger revenue comes greater and more high-profile risks. Celebrities reduce missteps by scrutinizing a brand’s roster of spokespeople almost as closely as potential co-stars. Jennifer Lawrence finally said yes to her first luxury endorsement when she saw she was in good company succeeding Oscar winner Natalie Portman as the face of Miss Dior.
Overexposure is a pitfall: Catherine Zeta-Jones accepted $20 million in 2002 to shill T-Mobile for two years and became a ubiquitous presence. To avoid oversaturation, stars covet overseas and voice-over gigs. Brad Pitt recently signed a $3 million one-off deal with Cadillac to advertise in China only, and the average American may not realize that George Clooney is in his eighth year with Nespresso, as the actor’s ads appear everywhere except in the U.S. (The Darfur advocate has stated that most of his profits — estimated to be close to $40 million — go toward maintaining a satellite that monitors the Sudanese border.) Says APA partner Brian Dow, “Doing a V.O. can be very lucrative” — a couple million dollars for a high-profile campaign such as Jeff Bridges for Hyundai and Julia Roberts for Nationwide Insurance — “and a less impactful way to still go out there and work.”
A-listers looking to protect their image also can seek a level of creative control. Robert Downey Jr. is at least partially responsible for the quirkiness of his debut commercial for HTC, which is giving him more than $12 million for two years to serve as the centerpiece of the Taiwanese mobile manufacturer’s billion-dollar campaign. Likewise, Pitt helped shape his abstract (some say confounding) Chanel No. 5 soliloquy, for which he reportedly received $7 million of the brand’s $17 million U.S. advertising budget.
STORY: Hollywood’s Tale of Two A-Lists: Why Chris Hemsworth Will Never Make Robert Downey Jr. Money
Then there’s Beyonce‘s $50 million deal with Pepsi, a staggering amount even to seasoned agents and a new template for brand partnerships. The diverse nature of the musical artist’s work lends itself to more sponsorship opportunities outside of traditional commercials. The deal includes a content development fund to underwrite any projects the superstar dreams up, from live concerts to videos to more.
But for some brands, an A-lister’s wattage can be too bright: St. John let its $12 million, three-year contract with Angelina Jolie expire in 2008, explaining that the superstar “overshadowed the brand.”
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