Top 10 Ad Deals

Catherine Zeta-Jones for T-Mobile. Angelina Jolie for St. John. Gwyneth Paltrow for Estée Lauder. Nicole Kidman for Chanel. A-listers, who once upon a time avoided advertising like the plague (except, of course, their movie trailers), are pushing products in unprecedented numbers—and for good reason. These celebs, many of whom average $15 million to $20 million for movie work requiring months of their time, are cashing in on ad campaigns that can pay as much as $3 million for as little as a day’s work.

“The past 12 months have been a banner year for using celebrities in advertising, and that’s only going to increase,” predicts Ryan Schinman, president of Platinum Rye Entertainment, which negotiates talent buys on behalf of advertisers. “Every time someone like a Robert De Niro or a Nicole Kidman [shoots an ad], it makes it easier for the next A-list celebrity to do a deal.”

While the steady increase in the number of top celebrities willing to do advertising is expected to keep prices somewhat in check, say ad experts, T-Mobile’s deal with Academy Award-winning actress Zeta-Jones—a $10 million a year, two-year contract first signed in 2002 and renewed last year—can’t help but open actors’ eyes to advertising’s enormous earnings potential, despite being an aberration. Zeta-Jones’ deal has also helped raise interest in endorsing products that fall outside of the comfortable Hollywood zone of beauty and glamour.

And some talent is catching on to yet another way to make big bucks: negotiating a percentage of the sales, a lucrative move made by such C-listers as Susan Lucci and Victoria Principal for direct-response TV company Guthy-Renker. Lucci has averaged $2.5 million a year since endorsing the company’s Youthful Essence skin treatment, and is expected to make well over $3 million this year from her cut of sales, according to sources. And Principal’s annual share of profits from her “Principal Secret” line of anti-aging products tops $10 million.

Jolie made such a deal with luxury apparel retailer St. John. In addition to a minimum guarantee of $4 million per year, Jolie’s agreement includes an undisclosed percentage of sales. Sources say that even in a fair year for the company, Jolie could earn double her minimum fee, potentially making her endorsement deal second to only that of Zeta-Jones.

“Celebrities are interested in being business partners rather than just doing straight endorsements,” says Lori Sale, head of ICM’s global branded entertainment division. “I think that’s the direction you’ll see it going.”

While experts say it’s difficult to compare deals—they depend on a variety of factors, from type of media involved and the length of the contract to the geographic reach of the campaigns and the amount of media exposure involved—Adweek has put together a list of the 10 endorsement deals believed to be the highest-paid contracts by a single client over the past 18 months. Advertisers all declined comment, as did celebrity talent agents, managers and publicists.