Hawking consumer goods on TV isn't just for has-beens and B-listers anymore. Just ask Amy Schumer, who — despite having a hit movie ("Trainwreck") and an award-winning TV show ("Inside Amy Schumer") — is in the public eye most often these days for a Budweiser commercial.
She's far from alone, of course. Matthew McConaughey began his moody Lincoln TV commercials within a year of his 2014 best actor Oscar win for "Dallas Buyers Club." Oscar winner Charlize Theron appears in ads for Dior's J'adore perfume, and Mila Kunis, whose credits include "Black Swan" and "Ted," is gamely hawking whiskey on behalf of Jim Beam.
Anyone old enough to worry about "selling out" — and, yes, the term does date you — will be scratching his or her head.
But experts say that millennials, the 83 million Americans between 15 and 34 who are increasingly driving consumer and popular culture, are quite comfortable with big actors plugging products. This is a generation that's at home with rap music's embrace of luxury brands, Taylor Swift's CoverGirl ads and the commercial-entertainment juggernaut that is the Kardashians.
"This is the most marketed-to generation in human history," said Lindsey Pollak, author of the bestseller "Becoming the Boss: New Rules for the Next Generation of Leaders."
So while their parents, the idealistic baby boomers, might be taken aback to see a movie star in a TV commercial, millennials don't think twice.
"What millennials use as their gauge, more than anything else, is transparency," Pollak said. "The celebrities, they're very transparent. With Amy Schumer, it's, 'I'm hawking for Bud. I'm doing a commercial. I'm not hiding it; this is who I am. I'm using my celebrity to sell a product.' "
The concept of "selling out," or trading your artistic principles for financial gain, still resonates among baby boomers and the grumpy Gen Xers who followed, and many big-name actors still head off to Japan to film coffee, cellphone, liquor and fashion ads that, by mutual agreement, cannot be televised in the United States.
The dawn of the 'Japander'
In 2012 George Clooney addressed the issue directly, saying he makes a lot of money doing coffee ads overseas.
"We shot 'Ides of March' for $12 million," he said. "We shot 'The Descendants' for under $20 [million]. We're not killing the budget on the film, so we get to make those films, and if they make money, then good. Then they made money. But I'll go make money somewhere else. I'm interested in movies. That's what I like to do."
The concept of compromising art for commerce features prominently in a recent T-Mobile ad featuring Drake singing his mega hit "Hotline Bling," but it's played for laughs. A bunch of clueless marketing types keep asking Drake to change his song to include information about data charges and upgrade eligibility, and he agrees with an attractive mix of irony and good cheer: "Fantastic idea! These changes don't ruin the song at all!"
By the 1980s, Paul Newman was doing commercials in Japan. In the 1990s, stars including Brad Pitt, Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson and Jodie Foster appeared in Japanese ads. Now it's so common there's even a term for it: Japander, defined as "a western star who uses his or her fame to make large sums of money in a short time by advertising products in Japan that they would probably never use." The word also can be used as a verb.
Some older viewers still see a TV ad as a step down for a star.
"My guess is there are some purists" who object to the ads, said Neal Burns, a professor of advertising at the University of Texas at Austin. "If Marlon Brando had been advertising for Lexus, I wouldn't have been happy."
But millennials tend to reject the kind of stark either/or thinking that pits artistic purity against commercialism.
"Being your own brand, being your own identity, kind of plays into" everything for millennials, said Pollak, an expert on millennials in the workplace. "The attitude is, 'I'm going to make my own choices. I'm not going to judge you for whether you get married or not, or have children, or when you do that — there's no timeline anymore.' "
There are economic factors too, Pollak said. Because of the financial crisis and student debt, a lot of millennials have side gigs — they may be launching an app while they're working at a bank — and they embrace that duality.
"You don't just have to be an actor. You can be an actor and a pitchman for a brand and a singer and a perfume designer," Pollak said. "You can be multiple things, as opposed to just a doctor. Or just an actor. I think there's a lot more understanding that people have multiple facets and multiple income streams."