Chrysler plans to get more animated with its ads

The Chrysler group will use fewer live actors and more life-like ani-mated characters in its TV commercials to reduce costly residuals paid to talent.

Jeff Bell, Chrysler vice president of marketing communications, predicted that in 10 years, the automaker will use Hollywood technology to create computer-generated people for its TV spots. This would allow the company’s ad agency to change the scene or the appearance of the people in the ad with the push of a button.

“We will be able to change the ethnicity and gender of the participants in those commercials so that they are appropriate for the targeted channel in which we are broadcasting,” Bell said. “There is no reason to be limited by traditional filming technology. You can, in fact, change the scene and the talent with digitization,” he said.

Bell’s comments underscore the concern of many in the ad community that talent and production costs are rising as advertisers tighten their belts.

A three-year agreement signed last fall between the Association of National Advertising and the Screen Actors Guild/American Federation of Television and Radio Artists will mean 7 percent to 9 percent increases in talent costs for advertisers.

Expensive industry

Advertisers, including automakers, pay about $700 million annually to union actors and actresses for session fees and residuals in a non-strike year, according to an attorney for the Association of National Advertising.

“The upfront fees that we pay to actors and actresses is not all that great, but the residuals can be very, very onerous,” Bell said.

With broadcast TV, the first fee for on camera is $500. The union fees are based on the number of times the commercial is used. For example, for 13 times, the minimum on-camera fee is about triple the original fee.

Bell said a good example of the type of technology the company is considering can be seen in the Columbia Pictures’s film Final Fantasy, which used computer animation to create real-looking people.

He emphasized that the Chrysler group would never change the ethnicity or gender of a live actor with digitization. Bell said such a practice would be “immoral and illegal.” He added that the Chrysler group is trying to use more diverse talent in its ads, and its minority agencies will continue to play an important role in its marketing efforts.

Controversial issue

Not all agree digitalization will work in auto ads. Mike Belitsos, executive vice president and creative director for the Mazda North American Operations account at Doner in Southfield, Mich., and a 20-year veteran of the automotive creative community, said no technology can duplicate human reactions and emotions.

“For Mazda, our campaign is based on the emotion of motion,” Belitsos said. “I can’t imagine those characters being digitalized.”

Belitsos said Doner already uses digital technology to change backgrounds, thus reducing production costs.

“In automotive advertising, the consumer is being asked to relate to a person. If you break that emotional connection, you might create more skepticism on the part of the viewer.”

The Screen Actors Guild, the union representing 98,000 commercial performers, believes actors and actresses always will be needed.

“The technology used in Final Fantasy used actual actor’s and actress’s motions, which were put into the computer; it’s called performance capture,” explained Ilyanne Kichaven, a Guild spokesperson. “There will always be an interest in people seeing people as well as a need for voice-over work using professional actors and actresses.”

Skepticism or not, Chrysler’s Bell says the technology is coming.

“That’s a big business model change, but we’re talking 10 years from now,” he said. “It will not happen tomorrow.”

You can reach Laura Clark Geist at autonews@crain.com

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