Ad Strikers Strike!

Since May 1 of this year, the unions representing commercial actors have been on strike, squabbling with the advertising industry over compensation issues. Specifically, the industry and the unions (the Screen Actors Guild and the Association of Film and Television Recording Artists) are divided over whether actors ought to be paid a flat fee for their work or whether they should get paid according to how often a commercial is broadcast–the “pay for play” model. There is also disagreement over what actors are owed for commercials on the Internet, whether designed for Web use or simply carried over from television. The most recent round of serious negotiations lasted 13 days and ended in a stalemate in late September.

The strike has certainly had its effects, particularly in southern California, but you’ll notice that there are still new ads appearing on a regular basis. More ads are being produced in Canada and elsewhere, and as is often the case when there is a strike, nonunion workers are being used. The actors union camp is making known its distaste for the use of nonunion talents with an anti-scab ad, which you can view here (via, which requires the use of the Quicktime plug-in).

The Ad: The spot begins with a sleek silver car whipping around a track somewhere to the sound of anonymous, pounding rock music. But the key is the print along the bottom of the screen: “Non union/Non professional driver on closed course.” After 10 seconds or so, the rock music fizzles out, and the soundtrack shifts to what I believe is a particularly bombastic passage from Carl Orff’sCarmina Burana,” or is in any case a bombastic passage of theatrically performed choral music by someone or other. Anyway, the car begins a slow motion spinout, losing control, as the director and his crew panic and flee their setup just before the car plows into it. “Support Sag/Aftra,” reads the closing screen type, as the shot shifts to an ambulance, driving away and sporting a pro-union bumper sticker.

The message: See? See what happens when you use scabs? See??

Relevance to actual strike issues: Pretty minimal. This is a battle over money, and the underlying differences between the two sides’ proposals center on formulas for figuring royalties and so forth. The way each side would boil down its argument for public consumption would be to say that the other side is being greedy. This is not trivial stuff since figuring out royalties in the grand era of convergence is important to a lot of creative people (and the companies who hire them), but clearly the makers of this particular spot opted to skip the details and paint with very broad strokes.

Effectiveness: So does this amusing little episode do much to advance the cause of “the working class actor” (to borrow from language in the strike zone on SAG’s Web site) whose compensation is at issue? Sure it does. Unions are not generally known for their biting wit, so the simple act of being amusing is arguably a kind of victory by itself. And it was probably wise to go with broad strokes, emphasizing (however crudely) the skills of the strikers. So I give the ad a B. As for the strike, now in its sixth month, negotiations are set to pick up again on Oct. 19, and there will probably be very little laughter involved.