From Hollywood, for our eyes only

Observations on advertisements

Jennifer Aniston escapes the unwanted attentions of legion admirers using her Barclaycard, Kim Cattrall gets intimate with a cup of Tetley tea and Ray Liotta sips on a Heineken. These days, US film stars are as likely to pop up on our small screens during the ad breaks as they are to appear in our cinemas. Does this mean that they consider the UK to be an important market that they're just dying to get a piece of? Hardly. Their willingness to be seen endorsing even the most unglamorous products this side of the pond is a sure sign that they consider the UK to be a showbiz backwater.

In the past, American stars have confined their - frequently highly embarrassing - endorsement exploits to Japan. This phenomenon has been chronicled for the past ten years on the cheeky website www.japander.com, where fans can see huge box-office names prostituting themselves for a few extra greenbacks. Stars caught in the act include Sylvester Stallone, Harrison Ford, Sharon Stone and Jennifer Lopez, but the site reads like Hollywood's Walk of Fame and everyone who is anyone is there (except, funnily enough, Tom Cruise). So well-known is the practice that it was sent up in the film Lost in Translation, in which Bill Murray's character goes to Japan to promote a Japanese whiskey.

According to Brian Dubin, senior vice-president at the William Morris Agency, stars can net between $1m and $5m for a single overseas ad campaign. But the ads are made on condition that no one will see them outside the country for which they were made. Websites that have tried to expose the endorsements of Meg Ryan and Leonardo DiCaprio have been threatened with legal action. Al Soiseth, Japander's founder, received a stern letter from DiCaprio's lawyers accusing him of "wrongful use and misappropriation of our client's name" after Soiseth put one embarrassing endorsement up on the site. Touchy.

US stars wish to be seen by their home fans endorsing only products that bolster their image. It's fine for Sarah Jessica Parker to look snazzy plugging Gap clothes, while Governor Schwarzenegger proves that he's no girlie by acting as unofficial spokesman for the celebrity off-road vehicle of choice, the Hummer.

Until very recently, Britain has been seen as a place where a celebrity's good name must be protected - Aniston did an advert last year for Heineken that appeared in the Netherlands on the understanding that British and American viewers would not see it. Although many stars have been happy to record endorsements aimed at a European audience - particularly George Clooney, who has advertised Martini and the chain store El Corte Ingles on the Continent - the UK audience was deemed too discerning to witness such travesties.

Now, however, it seems that the British moviegoer enjoys the same status in the eyes of Hollywood as the Japanese stargazers lampooned in Lost in Translation. Christina Aguilera has recently been gracing our screens both big and small by bouncing up and down on an office chair in a compromising fashion in an advert for Virgin Mobile. However, Aguilera's people insisted that the advert not be aired outside the UK. Other US stars in ads for our eyes only include Michael Madsen, Ed Harris and Samuel L Jackson.

We have long known that celebrities will stoop pretty low to make a buck, but now they don't mind if we see it. Expect more Hollywood luminaries in embarrassing endorsements, coming soon to a screen near you.