Question 1: I find that the commercial audition process is just too quick. Having primarily studied as a Method actor who digs deep, embodying the essence of a character, I leave the audition feeling like, What the hell did I just do in there? Why didn't I do this, that, the other thing, instead of whatever I just did? Can you tell me what I can do about this?
Trust that for the rest of your life you will do your best commercial audition in your car on the way home. What you can dig your teeth into, however, is the story that the copywriter is telling. In commercials it usually goes something like this: "My life is better because I drink Coke, clean with Swiffer, have Allstate insurance, (fill in the blank)." And if you are in a scene with a product spokesman—say, the bespectacled Verizon guy, the Maytag repairman—remember, you like him.
Question 2: It used to be three to five people at the callback per role, but now it's dozens more actors. Are there really that many more people who fit the character? I love a callback as much as the next actor, but they used to mean a lot more and were not as wasteful on gas, which is getting more and more expensive. Also, the same-day auditions: Is it me or has there been an insanely increasing number of same-day auditions?
Unless it's Leslie Dektor or Joe Pytka, a commercial director rarely has carte blanche over whom to cast. These days the ad agency execs have a say about who gets seen again. The execs may want the sexy, perky blonde while the director prefers to go ethnic and edgy. When the director and the ad agency don't have the same vision, then all sorts of people will be at the "all-back."
You can thank the Internet for the same-day calls. Ad agencies know that a casting director can send out breakdowns from a laptop and receive headshots 24/7. So agents have to do submissions in bed to be sure they don't miss a last-minute opportunity, then check their email first thing in the morning to see if any of their people got an audition from a casting office overnight. It's crazy pressure on all of us.
Question 3: A big bugaboo for me is the avail. Isn't the avail meant to be a courtesy to the actor and the casting office, asking if you are indeed available for the spot? Once upon a time the top two or three choices were put on avail, but these days they'll often put everyone called back on avail.
Generally it's still the top two or three choices who get put on avail—and only after the callback. But if you're put on avail when your agent calls you with the callback, then, nonsensically, everyone is getting put on avail. Some casting directors and even some agents mistakenly believe that the word avail is a legally binding term. As you state, it's just a courtesy to make sure you know what dates you could be working if you're booked.
The word hold, however, is a legally binding term. If they put you on hold and then decide not to use you, they must pay you a cancellation fee. You can be put on avail for a dozen jobs, and when it comes time to book one, you get to choose whether to take the international EarthLink spot or the Hardee's with the Midwest-only run. No one else needs to know that you're on avail for other jobs until you have to choose between bookings.