While movie actors and stage actors work for others in the same profession (movie studios, theater companies, producers), commercial actors typically work for advertising agencies. Commercial actors are hired to assist these agencies in selling a particular product or service. As with movie and stage actors, commercial actors can earn a significant amount of money, particularly those who are are union-affiliated. In contrast, commercial actors have the added benefit of earning residual income.
Two unions exist for commercial actors: the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the American Federation of Radio and Television Artists (AFTRA). Because of wage regulations and the potential for residual income, actors under either union have the potential to earn the highest salaries from commercials. Commercial actors under SAG and AFTRA earn approximately $592 for a session as of 2009. For commercials airing for 13 weeks, actors receive a total of $1,662 in residual income. According to talent agent Bill Naoum, a union-sanctioned national commercial can earn actors as much as $150,000 as actors are paid every time the commercial airs. For "wild spots" (commercials on individual stations within a city) actors are paid based on units. SAG rates are currently $592 for the first unit in a city, $20.27 for the next 24 units, and $7.52 for the next 100 units.
Non-union commercial actors are seeing an increased amount of work due to the need for companies and businesses to cut costs. Generally, non-union commercials actors may even find more work; however, salaries are considerably lower and there is no residual income. Still, non-union actors can earn decent wages for commercial work, which normally does not require more than a day of work. In a May 2009 casting notice from Actors Access requesting non-union actors for a "Rafa Marquez" commercial, the pay rate is listed at $1,200. Non-union commercial actors may earn no money to as much as a few thousand dollars for a commercial.
Celebrity Actors and Movie Stars
In recent years, the advertising industry has used the services of celebrity actors and movie stars to help sell its products and services. In an effort to appeal to consumers' familiarity with stars, the advertising industry typically will pay above union scale wages for well-known actors. Wages are negotiated by the actors agent or manager and may be several thousand dollars for a session. An actor who appears in a series of commercials as a spokesperson may earn a six-figure and even million-dollar salary.
Another type of actor that exists for commercials is the voice actor. Voice actors are not seen on camera and use their voices instead to help sell a product or service. As with union on-camera actors, AFTRA voice actors earn approximately $265 for a session through March 2012 for radio and earn roughly the same amount for each 13 weeks the commercial runs. In television, SAG and AFTRA actors earn $445 per session and for each 13 weeks of use. Non-union voice actor salaries compare more favorably with radio session fees at $200 and $300 (in New York and Los Angeles) and television session fees at $300 and $500 respectively as of 2011.