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Thread: Questions for... Ellen DeGeneres (The Wall Street Journal)

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    Default Questions for... Ellen DeGeneres (The Wall Street Journal)

    Hey, this is an interviewed posted on


    Questions forů
    Ellen DeGeneres

    Making American Express Ads
    And the Fear of 'Selling Out'
    Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
    November 17, 2004; Page B3

    In the late 1990s, Ellen DeGeneres made television history by playing a gay character on her sitcom. The comedian then became engulfed in a very public love affair with actress Anne Heche.

    It was all enough to make marketers blanch, as gay-themed programming hadn't yet reached its current level of broad acceptance in the TV marketplace.

    Today, "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," Ms. DeGeneres's two-year-old talk show, is showing some of the largest ratings increases in the crowded talk-show world, where new faces such as Tony Danza and Jane Pauley are scrapping for viewers.

    Moreover, she has just been tapped to star in American Express Co.'s latest advertising campaign. Below, Ms. DeGeneres, 46 years old, talks about celebrities' fear of "selling out" and the excessive commercialization of daytime TV.

    WSJ: Is this your first corporate hookup?

    Ms. DeGeneres: Early on, I did regional things. I did something for U S West, the phone company. The commercials won some award but only played for a short time. This is the first big thing that I have chosen to do. It's not the first offer, but the only one I cared about.

    WSJ: Why American Express?

    Ms. DeGeneres: I have always loved the Seinfeld commercials. They drew a lot of attention, and I thought to myself, if I ever do a commercial, that is the kind of thing I want to do -- something creative. I don't want to do an ad where I am holding up a bag of chips or talking about a soda, or do things that I don't really believe in. I want to be here not just taking up space but doing something good and representing something that I care about. That goes for me as an entertainer, too.

    WSJ: American Express has long used Seinfeld in their ads. Did you lock Seinfeld in the closet to get this gig?

    Ms. DeGeneres: No. I think he gave us his blessing.

    WSJ: Years ago, celebrities ran off to Asia and Europe to do commercials. Today, it seems everyone is pitching products. Has the fear of being seen as a "sellout" evaporated in Hollywood?

    Ms. DeGeneres: I think for some reason TV actors and actresses could always do it. If someone from TV was doing a Colgate commercial, it wasn't a horrible thing. But if Robert De Niro does a Colgate ad, people would be like, "What happened to him?"

    Actors on television can do anything. I remember when Sting did a Jaguar commercial -- I thought it was cool. It was done tastefully. He was just riding in a Jaguar and his music was playing. What's the big deal with that? It all should be cross-promotion.

    That is why I wanted to do American Express out of all the things that had been offered to me. If there were something else I wanted to do I would have waited. American Express ads are done in a really tasteful way, and it's entertaining. It's like little tiny pieces of self-promotion. I am flattered that they want me representing their company, and yet I get to be entertaining. The more entertaining my commercials are, the more people associate me with American Express.

    WSJ: Rosie O'Donnell took product placement to a new level in daytime; Oprah recently raised the bar by hyping the Pontiac G6 and giving away 276 new sport sedans to her audience. Madison Avenue is salivating at the chance to have you chat up their goods. You recently brought out a huge box of Frosted Mini-Wheats during your show and gave away Lee jeans to your audience. How willing are you to write products into your show?

    Ms. DeGeneres: I gave it to Debra Messing from "Will & Grace." She was pregnant and we were talking about her cravings and she said she craved Frosted Mini-Wheats. So we gave her a case of them. The truth is, because we are on TV every day, everyone does want to be associated with us, so we have everyone calling every day asking, can we give this or that away.

    Sometimes we do. It's nice sometimes to give the audience gifts. For me, it's not about that. If I mention something on the air, it's natural. For example, I recently talked about Fruit-A-Freeze that I crave and talked about how I couldn't find them anywhere in any store.

    Literally, I got e-mails from hundreds of fans that did research for me and they even called the company. The company sent me cases and cases of them, so I gave them away to my audience because I wanted them to know what I was talking about. If I mention anything on television, you can't imagine what happens.

    I once mentioned flossing and how important it is and talked about the different kinds of floss. I talked about if it's not wax floss, then the floss gets stuck in your teeth and then you have to get floss to get the floss out of your teeth. Just because I mentioned Glide floss, I got cases of Glide. Lately I have been talking about Maserati, so we will see....

    WSJ: Talk shows have long been littered with product plugs. Some shows, such as David Letterman's "Late Show," are vigilant about not letting plugs get into the content. How vigilant are you and your staff about product placement?

    Ms. DeGeneres: I wasn't aware of it until I started do this show. People will do anything to get something on the show. I also came from ABC, where we had to be careful about anything we said. We also would blur out products in a grocery-store scene.

    So I am also coming from the opposite end of the spectrum, because in prime time, you can't do anything, but in daytime, everything is fair game. It's not just me who decides. I let everybody make those decisions. Other executive producers are looking at this and we are all on the same page with what kind of show we want to do, how classy it is, how we don't want to sell out, how we don't want to water it down. We try not to give things away just for the sake of it. I don't really like to make it about product placement.

    WSJ: Typically, celebrities are handed a commercial script from a marketer that they need to follow. American Express let you play a big part in creating your ads. How important is it that you have some control over the creative content of your ads?

    Ms. DeGeneres: It was the reason I am involved with American Express. My whole career is about me being myself. I have strong ideas and opinions. I am a perfectionist. If I am just hired to do something, I just can't. We didn't walk into it saying, this is what the commercial is going to be.

    I wouldn't do anything like that. It was about finding the right image. How do you find one image to say: "My Life. My Card." Photographer Annie Leibovitz asked me, what do you like to do? We ended up having me play cards with a dog at a table.

    There is a photo of me just brushing my teeth. The point of that shot was to show that I am still the same person. I don't have an oxygen tank in my house and I don't live in a mansion. My life is still the same.

    WSJ: What American Express card do you use?

    Ms. DeGeneres: Now I use the cool black one. Sometimes I just drop it on the street and say, "Oh, there is my card."

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    haha i loved that. thanks!
    "I love women. They (we) are beautiful and amazing."


  3. #3
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    Jun 2005
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    that was a great interview thanks for sharing


    "It hit me... you are out of rum. If you are quiet it will come." E.D.

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