TV Ads the Stars Don't Want You to See

You don't usually think of Arnold Schwarzenegger as a geek in glasses and an ugly blue jacket, or riding an old-fashioned bicycle and cackling insanely.

But that's how he appears in an ad he made for a Japanese male potency drink. In the ad, his girlfriend gets frustrated with him and gives him the potency drink — apparently at an outdoor bathroom.

Wimpy Arnold is transformed into Superhero Arnold, flying toward the screen in a shower of sparks and juggling people on his hands.

Major stars like Schwarzenegger — and Richard Gere, Leonardo DiCaprio, Sharon Stone, Brad Pitt, Bruce Willis — can make millions from ads in overseas markets, but they don't generally want them to be seen back home.

Slideshow: Celebrities' Foreign TV Ads

It's not just because the ads are sometimes goofy, but according to Bob Garfield, editor of Advertising Age, also because of an unwritten code that hot stars should not have to stoop to advertising.

"If you're at the top of the Hollywood food chain, you just don't do advertisements in the United States. It's considered demeaning. It's considered the sure sign of someone on the way down," says Garfield. "You know, like one step before doing Hollywood Squares."

Web Sites Make Ads Available Online

The ads are shown only in foreign markets, but a few Web sites have popped up that make the ads available to anyone with a computer and a modem — anywhere in the world.

That has gotten some of the stars — or at least their lawyers — concerned. In recent months, Hollywood attorneys have sent a flurry of cease-and-desist letters to the owners of the Web sites. The lawyers say the sites violate laws barring the unauthorized use of their clients' identity for commercial purposes.

Al Soiseth, a Canadian who runs a site called japander.com from his home in Japan, says he has received letters from lawyers for Leonardo DiCaprio and Meg Ryan asking him to remove their ads from his site and threatening him with legal action. Soiseth had been posting Hollywood stars' Japanese ads for five years, but a recent mentions in the American press boosted the traffic to his site to 4 million to 6 million hits a month.

Soiseth, who says he makes no money from the Web site, agreed to take the two stars' ads down.

"I thought it was ridiculous. I'm just some guy putting up ads," he told Primetime, adding, "I don't think one has or can have a reasonable expectation of keeping a secret if you are going to be on national television on the second biggest economy in the world."

Lawyers for Schwarzenegger made a similar request to another site, gaijinagogo.com.

Ads Can Bring in the Cash

The foreign ads can be very lucrative. Garfield says the stars can make $1 million for a day's work, or even just a few hours.

"I've heard stories of, literally, of celebrities — I'm not going to name any names because I don't want to get sued — but of actually leaving a country with a suitcase full of cash," he said.

The advertising companies who produce the ads do not disclose how much the stars are paid, but Richard Gere reportedly got $1.4 million for a chocolate commercial in Italy. Nicole Kidman is said to have made millions for a 30-second ad for a Spanish department store.

Biggest in Japan

Brad Pitt is so far the biggest Hollywood star in Asian commercials, with 31 ads under his belt in Japan alone.

In one ad, for a brand of jeans with the sexy name Edwin, Pitt rides down a carpeted staircase lying face down on a surfboard, then rolls on the floor and gives the camera two thumbs up. Then a graphic comes up saying, "Thanks No. 1 Edwin."

Stars also go to Europe for ad work. In an ad for an Italian bottled water, Kirstie Alley says in English, "This is the best water in Italy. I use it for my skin. I use it for my insides. I even use it on my hair." Then she proves it by raising the bottle above her head and pouring water over herself.

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