Commercial Casting: Should You Hire Actors or Use Real-Person Testimonials?

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If famous commercial actors like Stephanie Courtney (Flo from Progressive) and Dean Winters (Allstate’s resident Mayhem) have shown us anything, it’s that casting is key to a commercial’s success. With real-people casting on the rise in recent years, many companies are asking what’s best for them: to hire an actor, or use real employees or customers to help sell their product or service?

We spoke with Annmarie Stec, a producer at Quirk Creative, a Brooklyn-based ad agency specializing in TV, social, and digital video campaigns, about how to weigh casting options. 

“A brand should first and foremost think about who their customer is and what they want their audience—potential new customers—to feel and take away from the commercial,” she says. Here, she breaks down the pros and cons of each option. 

Casting Professional Actors 

“During creative development, we like to explore a wide range of directions for our clients,” Stec says. “Some of those concepts might lean more toward branded narrative, in which case actors are the best bet. Other concepts might require real testimonials.”


  • Professional actors are generally more comfortable delivering lines to the camera. 
  • Actors understand the process and are prepared for long hours of filming.


  • Depending on the creative concept, you may need a disclaimer in your ad that makes it clear that these are paid actors, which can detract from your brand’s message.

Casting Real People 

“If a client is even remotely interested in exploring real people—actual users, customers, or employees—our first questions are going to be around access to those people,” Stec says. “Does the client have a database we can tap into? Does the client know they have vocal brand advocates who are willing to share their perspectives publicly? These are the logistical questions discussed upfront.”


  • Having a real employee or customer adds to the credibility and authenticity of your brand. 
  • You could save money—customers and employees are typically more lenient about payment. Sometimes, even a gift card or free product will suffice.


  • The audition and vetting process takes more time. 
  • Your spokesperson may require more explanation about the project than an actor would.
  • There’s the possibility that come shoot day, the person you cast may not be comfortable in front of the camera. 

No matter which commercial casting route a company takes, the good news for actors is that agencies like Quirk are constantly expanding their reach to find undiscovered talent. Finding the right people for the job should always be priority No. 1. 

This story originally appeared in the Apr. 7 issue of Backstage Magazine.