Acting may be the ultimate job that inspires spectators to condescendingly think, “I could do that!” Being famous, earning big money, having your lines written for you and getting to spend your work days waiting in a cushy trailer until your next scene all sound like a cinch, but for nearly all actors, it’s a much more blue-collar gig than that.
That’s especially true in commercial acting, which is where many hopeful screen players get their start. Appearing in an ad is typically a thankless job that requires all the usual hoops of auditioning and hoping for a callback but with a smaller paycheck and less notoriety. However, some actors have had so much success in commercials, they’ve become nearly as famous as movie stars and have commanded similar paychecks.
Which Companies Spend The Most On Ads?
In the advertising budget of many companies, spending on TV commercials isn’t quite what it was 20 years ago. That chunk of the pie is increasingly going toward social media and other online ads, but billions are still being spent on TV spots every year. The biggest advertisers in the U.S. on a yearly basis are mostly telecommunications firms like Comcast and AT&T, as well as tech giants like Facebook and Alphabet.
But some of the biggest advertisers on TV are companies like Geico, Progressive, T-Mobile and State Farm. If you feel like you can’t watch anything without seeing an ad for one of those companies, it’s because you pretty much can’t. So it makes sense that those companies have had iconic characters in their commercials that have been used for years, giving viewers a personal connection to their services sometimes by simply making them laugh.
How A Commercial Actor’s Salary Works
Before they agree to work in a movie or TV show, a lead actor will often agree to a flat salary for the project, based on its expected shooting schedule. Actors with small parts who don’t have that kind of power will typically work for what is called “scale,” which means getting paid either per day or per hour the minimum wage agreed to by SAG-AFTRA, the screen and radio performer union.
Commercial actors are included in SAG-AFTRA, and the principal actors in an ad have to make a minimum hourly wage, plus extra money every time the ad airs, with that rate depending on where it airs, including the network and location. However, the most successful and recognizable commercial actors often agree to a sizable flat salary and will sign a contract agreeing not to appear in ads for other companies.
What Do Commercial Actors Typically Earn?
As of 2020, the minimum wage set by SAG-AFTRA for principal actors in a commercial is $89 per hour, plus extra earnings every time the ad airs. Actors who are just starting out and getting their first work as the lead in a commercial will probably take this rate, especially if it’s a one-off agreement. That’s decent money for what often amounts to a 30-second spot and means that the average salary for commercial actors is between $57,000 and $85,000 per year, according to Salary.com.
That’s a solid paycheck, especially for someone working in their dream field, but the actors at the top of the commercial game are in an entirely different zip code when it comes to salary. Here are some of the most famous commercial actors in the world and what they reportedly make for those bite-sized performances.
Stephanie Courtney (Progressive)
Progressive spends a ton of money on TV advertising and a chunk of it goes to the insurance company’s star spokesperson: Flo. That insurance-obsessed character has been played by actor Stephanie Courtney since 2008. More than a decade later, Courtney still going strong in Progressive’s campaigns, even playing all the members of Flo’s ridiculous family in some spots. All that work has netted her an estimated salary of $800,000 per year, according to numbers cited by Forbes. Before making it big as Flo, Courtney had a small part in AMC’s hit show “Mad Men,” which, coincidentally, was set in the world of advertising.
Carly Foulkes (T-Mobile)
Cell phone companies are some of the most ubiquitous advertisers on TV, and T-Mobile is one of the biggest. Deep pockets mean they can afford to spend big on a successful spokesperson, and they did exactly that with Carly Foulkes, aka “the T-Mobile Girl.” When the Canadian actor was doing regular ads for the company from 2010-2013, typically donning her signature pink dress, Foulkes was pulling in an estimated $1 million a year.
T-Mobile has brought her back several times since then and even kept her on contract when they weren’t using her in TV ads just to keep her away from other companies, showing her power as a brand icon.
Dennis Haysbert (Allstate)
Dennis Haysbert is one of the more well-known actors on this list, based on his work outside of commercials. He’s had memorable roles in movies like “Major League” and TV shows like “24,” just to name a couple. But Allstate has put his booming voice to great use in its TV ads since 2003, often having him say the slogan, “Are you in good hands?” Haysbert has also appeared in-person in many of the company’s commercials, making him even more visible. Based on his long history as a spokesperson with Allstate, Haysbert reportedly commands $3-$4 million a year to work exclusively in their ads.
Justin Guarini (Dr. Pepper)
Did you realize that the guy playing Lil’ Sweet, the diminutive singer in the Diet Dr. Pepper ads, is a former “American Idol” runner-up? Justin Guarini, who finished second to Kelly Clarkson in season one of the reality singing competition, has been playing that part since 2015. Reports estimate that he’s getting paid about $250,000 a year to appear in the somewhat bizarre series of spots. If you ask us, he deserves more just for that falsetto!
Dean Winters (Allstate)
Dean Winters is one of those actors who had a pretty solid acting career going before he found new star power in commercials. He was one of the stars of HBO’s acclaimed series “Oz” from 1997-2003 and had appeared in plenty of other shows and movies. But his life took a severe downturn in 2009, when he suffered a bacterial infection that nearly killed him. He has credited Allstate and the “Mayhem” commercials he’s starred in since 2010 with saving his life.
“I’m indebted to [Allstate] for life,” Winters told the Sioux City Journal. “It’s the best job I’ve ever had.”
Reports vary on what Winters makes for those spots, but Forbes put his net worth at $4 million in 2015 and some reports claim he is paid nearly $5,000 every time one of his ads airs in primetime.
Beck Bennett (AT&T)
You probably recognize Beck Bennett from his work on “Saturday Night Live,” but before he was a cast member on that series, he was a top commercial star. Starting in 2011, Bennett led a series of ads for AT&T that saw him sitting at a table with children and asking them to answer serious questions as a panel of experts. The spots were mostly improvised, which is a skill that would help him greatly on the set of “SNL.” It’s been reported that the up-and-coming comic was being paid $250,000 per year while doing those commercials.
Dick Wilson (Charmin)
A vintage commercial star, Dick Wilson became an icon for his performances in Charmin ads for about 20 years, starting in the mid-1960s. The part he played was Mr. Whipple, a neurotic grocery store owner who would admonish customers for squeezing the Charmin toilet paper before doing the same thing when nobody was looking. Wilson reportedly made as much as $300,000 a year for the part, which required very little work in terms of total hours on the set.
Clara Peller (Wendy’s)
If you were watching TV in the mid-’80s, you probably remember seeing Clara Peller pop up in breaks during your favorite shows. She became an unlikely commercial star at the age of 83, when she landed a gig in a Wendy’s spot that would become a classic. In the ad, she demanded to know, “Where’s the beef?” when looking at a burger offered by a fast-food competitor. The catchphrase became an instant hit and Peller was quickly locked up by Wendy’s, making a salary of $500,000 a year. Unfortunately, her dream job wouldn’t last long; Peller died in 1987 at the age of 86.
Billy Mays (OxiClean)
Ask anyone who watched a lot of late-night TV during the 2000s and they’ll tell you Billy Mays was the king of pitching products that you had no idea you needed. While he threw his impeccable salesmanship behind everything from ridiculously named products like the Ding King and the Big City Slider Station, Mays’ most famous ads were for OxiClean, which he started doing in 2000. The late pitchman actually ran a one-man production company, producing and starring in the ads himself, spending up to $30,000 to make a single spot. His net worth was reported at $10 million as of his death in 2009, meaning he was pulling in about $1 million a year.
Paul Marcarelli (Sprint/Verizon)
Whether you remember him from his classic ads with Verizon or only know him as the spokesperson for Sprint, Paul Marcarelli has made a career out of pitching cell phone plans. When he was working as the guy who would ask, “Can you hear me now?” in Verizon ads in the 2000s, he was reportedly making about $6,000 per commercial, according to The Hollywood Reporter. That ended up netting him an estimated $1 million per year, meaning he shot a lot of them. In 2016, he changed teams and started doing ads for Sprint.
Wendy Kaufman (Snapple)
The woman behind The Snapple Lady had one of the most interesting paths to commercial stardom of anyone on this list. Wendy Kaufman was simply a regular employee at Snapple who was known for having a great personality and for personally answering fan letters written to the company by customers. When Snapple’s advertising agency heard about this, they decided to base an entire series of ads, which ran for a few years in the early 1990s, around Kaufman doing exactly that to charming effect. Sales of the company’s drinks went through the roof in the wake of the ads, and Kaufman reportedly made $100,000 a year for her role.
Colin Ferguson (Maytag)
The Maytag Man is an advertising character that’s been around since the 1960s, and Colin Ferguson has been playing the part since 2014. In his commercials for the appliance brand, Ferguson assumes the role of the appliances themselves, crouching in a laundry room as a washing machine handling a load of dirty clothes or running in place while holding produce in a kitchen as a refrigerator, for example. It’s been reported that Ferguson makes as much as $1 million a year as Maytag’s go-to guy, contributing mightily to his reported net worth of $8 million, which is bolstered by his career as an actor and director in TV.
Jonathan Goldsmith (Dos Equis)
Another commercial actor who has amassed a reported net worth of $8 million is Jonathan Goldsmith. However, it appears that virtually all of his bank has come from doing ads. This stately looking actor became a TV ad icon in 2007, when he landed the role as “The Most Interesting Man in the World” in a series of ads for Dos Equis beer. His memorable spots led to a massive boom for Dos Equis, which saw sales increase by 116% in the first five years they aired. The company moved on from Goldsmith in 2016, but he earned around $1 million a year while playing the part.
Milana Vayntrub (AT&T)
Another commercial character that made a lot of people catch feelings was Lily from AT&T. The bubbly cell phone store employee was played by actor Milana Vayntrub in a series of commercials from 2013 to 2017 before the company moved on. Vayntrub doesn’t have a ton of other major projects on her resume but has also done work as a commercial director, including for a series of new ads featuring Lily made during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Vayntrub’s reported net worth of $3 million was calculated before she was brought back by AT&T, so we can assume she was making north of $700,000 a year in the role before.
Vince Offer (ShamWow)
Remember the ShamWow Guy? Vince Offer rose to fame in the late ’00s as a pitchman featured on late-night TV ads for products like ShamWow and the Slap Chop. His fast-paced delivery in those commercials made him a sensation and one of the most famous commercial actors of the era, especially in the direct-response sector. The budget for his famous ShamWow ad, which put him on the map, was only $20,000 in total, meaning he made peanuts for appearing in it. But it turns out that Offer is the owner of many of the products he has done commercials for, and that’s given him a net worth of about $2 million.
Isaiah Mustafa (Old Spice)
Procter & Gamble is one of the biggest advertisers in the world, spending as much as $4.4 billion on ads across all spaces on a yearly basis. One of the company’s most visible brands is Old Spice, which has been known in the past decade for its unique TV commercials. Isaiah Mustafa was a regular presence in those spots during the 2010s, showing off his chiseled form and deep voice as a mythical figure that came to be known simply as the Old Spice Guy. Mustafa’s net worth has been reported at $5 million, meaning he was making an estimated $500,000 a year during the decade.
Brandon Moynihan (Hotels.com)
There are a lot of recurring characters in TV commercials today, but Captain Obvious from Hotels.com has to be one of the funniest. The deadpan delivery of actor Brandon Moynihan helps give the completely obvious statements he makes the weight of an earth-shattering fact. Moynihan debuted as the character in 2014, decked out in an elaborate captain’s costume, and has been playing the part ever since. Estimates put his net worth at $1.1 million in 2020, which means he could be making around $180,000 per year for the gig, as it’s been his only high-profile performance to date.
Jake Wood (Geico)
There are few companies that spend as much on TV advertising every week as Geico. The company outspends every other insurance company on advertising, shelling out $1.5 billion for it in 2018 alone. Rather than focusing on a single spokesperson to sell its services, Geico’s advertising approach involves many different campaigns, but the Geico Gecko has been a constant presence for 20 years. British actor Jake Wood voiced the Gecko for about a decade and amassed a reported net worth of $3 million, meaning his rate had to be pretty cheap since he has also done work on several high-profile British series.
In 2015, he was replaced as the Geico Gecko, with the actor tweeting that it was because he refused to take a major pay cut.
Farris Patton (Orbit)
When Wrigley relaunched the old Orbit gum brand in 2001, it wanted a memorable ad campaign. The company found it by introducing a character called The Orbit Gum Girl, a posh British woman who would recommend the brand in situations where someone needed a cleaner mouth. Farris Patton took over the role in 2010 and played it until 2014, making a reported $500,000 total in the process.
“People knock commercials, but they pay well and you’re working,” Patton told Backstage in 2011.
Demetri Goritsas (Slim Jim)
For years, Slim Jim advertisements used the star power of pro wrestling legend Randy “Macho Man” Savage to sell their meats, but the company went in a new direction in 1998. That’s when Demetri Goritsas debuted as the Slim Jim Guy, which was a brash character who literally was a human Slim Jim. The ads were completely over the top and had to be run past TV network censors because of the catchphrase shouted by Goritsas in each one of them: “Eat me!” The spots didn’t run for too long, but they were memorable, and Goritsas made a reported $100,000 for his work in them.
Phil Swift (Flex Seal)
Many people have compared Phil Swift to Billy Mays because of their similar appearances and their work pitching products on direct-response ads. Their net worths are also apparently the same, reported at $10 million, despite the fact that Swift has limited his commercial work to goods in the Flex Seal family of products. You’ve probably seen Swift riding around on a boat made of glass that’s held together using only Flex Seal, Flex Glue or Flex Tape adhesives. Swift is actually the CEO of the company that makes Flex Seal, which means he didn’t make all that cash just by acting in TV ads.
Tim Williams (Trivago)
Do not fret, my friend! Your "daddy" will be unveiling some fun summer spots soon. Stay tuned 🙂 pic.twitter.com/8eEmjLi4Cg
— trivago (@trivago) July 13, 2017
It turns out that a lot of people have developed a crush on The Trivago Guy since he debuted in ads for the travel search engine in 2013. The character, who tells viewers about the wonders of Trivago while giving off an everyman silver-fox vibe, is played by actor Tim Williams. His sex appeal is something the company has had fun with, particularly on social media, like in this tweet. He was apparently a veteran of projects in Germany before Trivago made him a minor star in the U.S. Williams has a reported net worth of $5 million, which would equate to roughly $700,000 a year, but he’s done other acting projects so that’s probably an overestimation.
Diane Amos (Pine-Sol)
The Pine-Sol Lady has been a part of our lives for nearly 30 years, and Diane Amos was the actor who made that part famous. Her love for the lemon-scented cleaning product was seen in a series of TV advertisements starting in 1993, helping boost the profile of the brand. Amos’ background in improv comedy landed her the job and helped her nail the character, leading her to a reported net worth of $2.5 million. The company has even used her in social media ads more recently, such as this 2013 Facebook post. She made an estimated $250,000 per year while playing the part.
Jim Cashman (Progressive)
— Progressive (@Progressive) December 22, 2019
Flo remains the most recognizable figure in Progressive’s TV ads but her co-worker Jamie has become a minor star himself in recent years. That part is played by actor Jim Cashman, who is living up to his last name and getting paid handsomely to be Flo’s right-hand man. Cashman, seen on the right in this image posted by Progressive on Twitter, has a background in improv comedy and has used it to make Jamie a memorable figure in the ads, securing himself a reported salary of $500,000 annually.
Morgan Smith-Goodwin (Wendy’s)
— Morgan Smith (@MsMorganSmith) January 7, 2015
The fast-food giant Wendy’s has been praised for its savvy use of social media to connect with younger consumers, especially on Twitter. But the company has remained a steady player in TV advertising as well. From 2012-2016, it employed Morgan Smith-Goodwin as a charming redhead named Red in a series of commercials. Smith-Goodwin, seen here in a tweet from her time as the character, made as much as $750,000 per year in those spots, based on her reported net earnings. That kind of salary would satisfy even the biggest Frosty craving!
T.J. Jagodowski (Sonic Drive-In)
One of the most common backgrounds for top commercial actors is improv comedy, and that includes T.J. Jagodowski, seen on the left in this Facebook post from Sonic. He and fellow comic Peter Grosz have formed one of the most famous pairs in TV commercial history as the irreverent guys who spend a lot of time eating food in their car at Sonic. The “Two Guys” ads featuring Jagodowski first aired in 2004 and have been at the center of the fast-food chain’s TV campaign since then. He certainly became famous for the funny commercials but he didn’t exactly make a killing, according to estimates.
It’s been reported that he made about $300,000 total for his work on them, which effectively ended in 2020, when the company moved in a different direction with its marketing.
Laurel Coppock (Toyota)
If you’ve seen a Toyota ad in the past few years, you’ve definitely seen Laurel Coppock, smiling in her signature red outfits. The actor is yet another who landed her major commercial gig with help from a background in improv comedy. The former Groundlings performer has been playing Jan, a Toyota salesperson, since 2012 and has reportedly made some serious money in the role. Estimates put her in that elite category of making $1 million a year for her high-profile spokeswoman gig.