You may recognize Vanessa Branch as the blonde beauty with a glistening smile, frequently reminding you to clean up your dirty mouth. As the face of Orbit gum, Branch has played a part in one of the most iconic ad campaigns of the 21st century, and become a familiar face to all those with television sets and the ability not to fast forward through commercials. As a judge on Model Employee, she’s taken the knowledge acquired through her work with major brands, as well as her experience acting in projects like The Pirates of the Caribbean, LOST, and Entourage, and set out to evaluate the skill sets of a new generation of aspiring brand ambassadors.
VH1 chatted with the Orbit lady about her career, her thoughts on the most effective methods of advertising, and how it feels to make beautiful women chop up rat heads.
What was your first thought when you were approached with the idea of being on Model Employee?
What I liked about ME was that it asked women to have a voice and not just be pretty faces. I was sold from that point forward.
What’s the most important quality one needs to be a good brand ambassador?
There are two: being articulate and intelligent, because to convey any type of message you have to be able to convey it clearly. If you sound like an idiot people are not going to listen to what you have to say. The second is being a good person. What they are showing on the show is real–you really do go and work with the company who sells the gum, you meet the clients, and you go to conventions with 5,000 people. Lots of times you are going to have incredibly long days talking to all sorts of strangers you’ve never met, and there needs to be a real genuine interest there.
And how important is it to believe in the brand you’re working with?
You can be a good actor about it if you have to be, but I wouldn’t want to work for a company that I didn’t believe in at all–I wouldn’t be able to do it. That’s probably a personal choice, but for me with Orbit, I genuinely chew the gum constantly.
Is there any industry you wouldn’t want to work in?
Smoking. To me it depends on the company itself–it depends on how it’s run on the inside. You can have something squeaky clean like a gum company, but they are horrible to their employees.
Were there any challenges you felt bad about making the contestants take part in?
When they had to chop up the rats [to feed the sharks at Mandalay Bay]. There’s not a lot that I don’t think I could do–I would have been fine with the sharks, I would have been fine doing almost all of these challenges–but I don’t know if I could have done that, especially when the rat babies started falling out. That was disgusting. I have a lot of admiration for them for doing that and not complaining so much.
That’s not exactly something you had to do in your Orbit days, right?
Oh, God no! There was a huge amount of travel, though. I did have to work with a lot of animals–a goat, penguins, ostriches. Ostriches and penguins are really mean, which a lot of people don’t know. I had the ostrich running behind me, and they can kill you. You see penguins and you think that because they are tiny they wouldn’t hurt you, but they have incredibly sharp beaks and they bite.
How did you feel to switch places and evaluate other people’s skills for a change?
It’s so fun, I love it. I love being able to show my own voice because I am so used to being an actress and speaking other people’s words. I love being able to give advice and I love seeing–because they are so much younger than I am–women at that age, and looking back at how I was and knowing the things I could have done better.
What was been the best professional advice that you received early on in your career?
Working on a soap opera was one of my very first jobs. One of the women on there was horrible to me–she was one of the longtime soap ladies. One of the main actors, my love interest, showed me to deal with it, which was literally to ignore it and to move on. If you continue to show a great face and be kind, eventually the other person has a choice to make: to knock it off. That was really valuable.
In addition to acting in commercials, you’ve been a part some major television and movie franchises. What was it like to work on the Pirates of the Caribbean?
Of course Pirates of the Caribbean was amazing to work on. It’s kind of a dream I’ve had since I was a little girl: I told my 12-year-old self that I was going to be in the Caribbean working on these amazing sail boats and working with someone like Johnny Depp. I’m not sure if I would have believed myself… it was such a great time and I’ve made amazing friends through that project. Everyone was super raunchy and fun and we had great nights in the Caribbean. That was such a blast.
Having spent so much time thinking about brands and advertisements, what do you think about some of the other iconic ads from the last 20 years? Let’s start with the Budweiser frogs.
I love those frogs! They are so cute.
The GEICO gecko?
I think if there’s a cute animal in the commercial it’s always a win. I still love the gecko. I know there’s a lot of people who say they’ve had it for so long–I think it’s great. I enjoy that gecko.
Do you prefer the gecko to the GEICO cavemen?
They were pretty funny too, but I would say the gecko. I’m definitely a cute creature girl.
What about Old Spice? Isaiah Mustafa, the Old Spice guy?
He was very funny and did a great job.
Does it help if there’s eye candy in an ad?
Yeah! Women don’t get enough of the eye candy. Same goes for guys with girls.
What about Progressive Insurance and Flo?
I worked with Flo and did a photo shoot about iconic commercial characters. I always thought she was funny, but I loved the commercials so much more after knowing her. She’s such a cool girl… she’s kind, she’s funny, she’s down-to-earth. I’m a big fan of hers.
Pepsi always recruits big pop stars or celebrities–Cindy Crawford in the ’90s was a hugely popular campaign. What do you think about their aesthetic and their choices?
Pepsi doesn’t strike me as much as other things. I know they always have the big, flashy thing but I tend to like the more quirky, clever than the big and flashy.
What do you think the defining characteristic of a good commercial?
If it’s not humor, then it has to touch you in some way. Most of the time it’s definitely humor, but if that’s not it, it has to be one of the ones that pulls at the heart strings.
Google ads tend to tell a story–whether it’s typing a message from a dad to his daughter, or a story of a romantic relationship–and I’m always crying by the end of it.
I love the one where it’s the dad and the daughter and you don’t really know why there’s not a mom there–ah, I love it!
Exactly! What’s your favorite ad out right now?
It’s an iPhone commercial and it’s all music with pictures from around the world. It’s about how many pictures you can take on an iPhone, but it uses the most widely taken photos around the world. It’s so beautiful, I literally almost cry by the end every time they show it.
Tune in to see which of the remaining contestants will be named the face of Mandalay Bay on the season finale of Model Employee tonight at 11/10 C.
[Photo Credit: Giuliano Bekor]