It lit up the e-mail lists of rec league hockey teams last week, and courted Canadian viewers with a rare Super Bowl commercial tailor-made for the big game broadcast in this country. But Budweiser's ad – which featured a surprise mob of fans filling the seats at a casual weeknight hockey game – is earning jeers from an actors' union.
The more than 500 "background performers" were hired outside of a common labour agreement that applies to actors in TV commercials produced in Canada, the Alliance of Canadian Cinema Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA) said in a statement issued Friday.
The president of ACTRA Toronto, Heather Allin, said in the statement that the commercial hired the actors who posed as fans "for much less than industry-standard pay" and did not properly compensate the hockey players for their speaking roles in the spot.
The dispute illustrates the public-relations peril of YouTube-inspired advertising spots that use unsuspecting subjects, average people, and flash mobs of hundreds of individuals that might not be hired professional extras.
The commercial was created by Anomaly, a New York-based agency that is part of the MDC Partners Inc. network. The statement noted that the agency has created advertising for Budweiser in Canada that did adhere to union agreements, several times over the past year.
When asked for comment, Labatt, which distributes the Budweiser brand in Canada, responded by calling the commercial "a spontaneous event rather than a traditional, scripted television advertisement."
As such, it was important to the concept for the spot that real players be involved, the company's statement said, in order to capture the "spontaneity and surprise" the ad wanted to show.
"We could not have achieved what we intended and hoped for without the element of surprise and Anomaly, Budweiser's global agency of record, developed a plan that we agreed to and that succeeded. Everyone who participated in the filming enjoyed it and readily agreed to be part of the final product," the statement said.