One thing we learned from the movie "Lost in Translation" was that American movie stars were more willing to take advertising gigs in other countries than on their home turf. Until that time, the thought was that serious actors needed to protect their "brands."
Things have changed since then. We have seen Alec Baldwin promoting Capitol One and a whole series of cheesy DirecTV ads featuring cool guy Rob Lowe.
Several more recent ad campaigns suggest the trend is continuing.
This guy for years was typecast as the boyfriend in silly romcom movies. Finally, in 2013, his breakout performance as a dying AIDs patient in "Dallas Buyers Club" won him a best actor Academy Award and allowed him to turn himself into a big-deal, bankable, serious actor.
So what did he do that autumn? He signed on to make television commercials for Lincoln automobiles.
The Lincoln ads surprised people. Almost immediately Jim Carrey did a spoof on Saturday Night Live. Another joke segment aired on the Ellen (DeGeneris) show.
Also, last year, McConaughey took $135,000 to make a college commencement speech in his home state of Texas. At the time, I wondered if McConaughey's agent wasn't sabotaging him. Where would the actor show up next, I wondered -- doing the opening act at Tony Robbins seminars?
But McConaughey seems to be getting serious movie roles still, including the lead in a Gus Van Sant picture, coming out in April, that is set in Japan's famous suicide forest.
Robert Duvall and Kevin Spacey
This one is even weirder. Duvall won an Oscar for "Tender Mercies" and has been a serious, careful star since he played the Corleone family lawyer in the Godfather movies. Spacey also is a serious actor, known most recently as Frank Underwood in the very good "House of Cards" series. He did a good Richard III on Broadway in 2012, and he also ran the Old Vic theater in London for several years in the aughts.
So why are these two heavyweights promoting E*Trade, the online company that enables day-trading, a fad that ran its course years ago?
Remember, this is the company that was known previously for talking-baby ads; that campaign was very cute and designed to appeal directly to customers -- if this baby can buy stock with an iphone, so can you!
The baby ads were very popular for years, but I think they jumped the shark with the one that was broadcast during the 2013 Super Bowl. (It is below; see if you don't agree with me.)
Maybe E*Trade hired the two heavyweights to make itself look like a serious, relevant company. I don't see what's in it for the actors, though.
Nicole Kidman and Jennifer Aniston
There are a couple of Middle-East-based airlines that are trying to break into, or perhaps establish, the super-luxury air travel market. Both are using prominent actresses to sell their amenity packages to rich travelers.
In the first case, Oscar winner ("The Hours") Nicole Kidman promoted glamorous Etihad Airways jets. Etihad, based in Abu Dhabi, has a broad international route map. Kidman's ads showed her relaxing in its jets' first-class "apartments" and "suites."
Then came Jennifer Aniston (star of the long-running "Friends" show) to promote Emirates, the Dubai airline that is aggressively seeking slots and code-share partners worldwide. Aniston's ad, like Kidman's, promotes the ultimate first-class experience -- in-flight showers, big rooms, etc.
I don't understand why these airlines think such advertising is a good idea. I know, I know, the actresses are attractive, sophisticated women, and maybe the typical super-high-end flyer is a guy who likes to think he will meet others like them in the bar on such a flight.
But still. Very few television viewers can or will pay many thousands of dollars for staterooms on commercial jets. (It would be much cheaper to reach the rich with personalized mailings and little tchotchke gifts of classy-looking pens or business card cases.) And, in an election year when much of the talk is about the evil rich, such ads are unlikely to impress the larger audience of lumpen proles who fly in crowded discomfort at the back of the plane.
Etihad and Emirates -- and now their star spokeswomen -- also have earned the enmity of unions that represent U.S. airline employees. These groups actively oppose making more landing slots available at domestic airports to non-union airlines from other countries.
It's hard to see how watching actresses enjoying luxury flights will change minds, let alone sell tickets.