For many, the term “modeling” might bring to mind long runways and prohibitively specific height and weight requirements—but one need not be 6 feet tall and rail-thin to become a working model. In fact, one type of modeling is more related to performance than many might think: the print and television commercial industry.
Theater and film actors, in particular, should consider broadening the scope of their career to include advertising work. Actors, models, and actor-models appear in print, internet, and television commercials all the time, all around us. But how does one get in on the action? Here’s how to start commercial modeling.
Commercial modeling is a niche that hires models to pose in front of the camera to advertise goods and services. Compared to fashion models, commercial models are more likely to reflect the average person, and many different ages, looks, and body types can be sought for this work.
Joe Thompson, an agent at Abrams Artists Agency, represents talent for two different markets: fashion-oriented, on-camera beauty work; and commercial print, which, as he says, welcomes “people in different shapes, sizes, and colors.” Whereas the fashion industry needs models within a strict range of height and weight for the sake of the designers’ construction of sample sized clothes, “on the commercial side it’s more like, ‘We want brunette hair and great smiles,’ ” Thompson explains.
1. Identify your modeling type
- Be honest about your look. The most common mistake Thompson sees in those new to commercial advertising is a lack of understanding of “look”—or, as theater or film professionals might call it, your “type.” “Whatever your look is—trendy or bookish or studious—that’s what your look is,” Thompson says. Although sometimes it’s hard to tell without practice, if you’ve been in an audition room for a play or movie, you’re often surrounded by other people with a look or energy that resembles yours. “Coming from a theatrical background, there are character types you’re going to know. This is similar to that,” he adds.
- Know your age range and physical type. Getting involved in print modeling is an opportunity to be booked because of your authentic age range and physical type. “I feel when people first get into the business they don’t understand what they might get booked for,” Thompson says, remembering a 40-year-old theatrical client who kept bringing photos of herself as a teenage cheerleader to her agents.
- Find your comps. If print or TV advertising is a market you want to capitalize on—and it should be!—Thompson’s best advice is to stay aware of your surroundings and gauge where you are likely to fit in. “Watch commercials and look at print ads, if this is what you want to get into,” he says. “I typically ask people when they come in: When you look around, where do you see yourself?” It’s not a trick question, and it’s the most helpful one to ask. On the subway platform, on billboards, on pop-up ads on the web, who is it that most closely resembles you? He recommends that you ask questions like: “Do you look similar to a Verizon campaign or Diet Coke? When you watch TV commercials, where does someone with your look exist?”
Practice your posing so that you can figure out the best angles, postures, and facial expressions so you’ll be ready to slay at your first shoot.
3. Build your modeling portfolio
4. Use social media
Create professional, aesthetically pleasing profiles on Instagram and other social media platforms. These should showcase your unique look. Use hashtags like #commercialmodel, #plussizemodel, #fitnessmodel, and #printmodel so that you show up in searches. It can also be a useful path to connecting with other aspiring models.
5. Go to casting calls
6. Seek representation
After building up some experience, research agencies using our Call Sheet resource to see which are likely to fit well with you, your look, and your goals as a model. According to Thompson, commercial agents tend to have more flexibility than casting directors when it comes to sending potential talent to producers and creatives. “Casting directors are given narrow parameters. As agents, we can scheme a little more,” he says. “It’s not just column A or column B; we can mix it up.”
Check out Backstage’s commercial audition listings!