Monday, 20 February 2012

Odd Celebrity Endorsements

When you’re famous and instantly recognisable (like me) then one of the ways you can support your expensive tastes and habits (drinking glacial melt-water and having sex with tigers) is endorsing products. You can sell not just your body, but also your face, name and/or voice.

Follow the click to hear about Mr T, JLS, Sylvester Stallone, Mikhail Gorbachev, zombies and SO MANY OTHERS!

Mr T

We’re all familiar with the George Foreman grill – The Lean Mean Fat-Reducing Grilling Machine. Who hasn’t used the Lean Mean Fat-Reducing Grilling Machine, or something like it, at some point in their life? Who hasn’t watched with disgusted fascination as the fat gathers in the little drain at the bottom? Who still uses their George Foreman grill? Anyone?

George Foreman is a very high-risk athlete. If an element of his training routine or his diet isn’t working, there’s a chance he’ll be thumped in the face and killed. So when he says something about a healthy diet, you damn well listen.

But Mr T is a stranger decision. I guess everyone just decided that having a powerful black male role-model appearing in infomercials for kitchen appliances is perfectly logical. This is the Flavorwave Oven Turbo infomercial, starring Mr T. The full infomercial is fifteen minutes long, but thankfully there’s also a quick highlight reel:

Mr T bursts his way onset by literally knocking down a door then proceeds to follow Darla around the kitchen like a curious, easily-impressed child. He urges people to remember to eat their veggies and works in a couple of catchphrases while the actors pretending to be an audience go wild about the littlest thing. Who decided Mr T would be a good spokesperson for this? I mean, he’d be a good spokesperson for anything, obviously, but why this?


A band called JLS won X-Factor in 2008. If some pop groups take countries by storm, JLS have taken Britain by foggy-with-a-chance-of-drizzle. Popular, successful, young, inoffensively handsome, clean and safe – they are all these things. They’re completely unremarkable. It might be hard to imagine that they know what a condom is, since they’d need to go through puberty before having sex with any groupies. Nonetheless:

Please tell me that the colour of the packet corresponds to flavour

Condoms are good, obviously. They’re a highly effective form of prophylactic and can dramatically decrease the rates of STD transmission. Durex is one of the most recognisable brand names of condoms; it is potentially the only recognisable one. Did they decide they needed to boost their profile by sticking JLS on the boxes? Were they no longer appealing to the youth market?

There’s something slightly creepy about the way they’re staring out of their boxes. They’re not particularly sexy, or moody, or even smiling. It might just be me, but they look like they’re… judging. They said the promotional scheme was to promote safe sex. It seems they’re achieving this via chastity.

Sylvester Stallone

He’s a big, beefy action star. He’s Rocky and Rambo. Of course you want to find out about his high protein pudding…

High-protein sugar-free pudding. Deeeeeelicious

… but it was breaching a patent or something, and the manufacturing company had to pay five million bucks to the original inventor. But fret not, because Stallone has other projects:

Holy crap

Before you react, let me explain about this pen. This is not just a pen. This is a luxury pen from Italian luxury pen company Montegrappa. Designed by Sylvester Stallone himself, he drew inspiration from 16th century artists like Hans Sebald Beham, Antonio Pollaiolo and Battista Franco. The detailed skulls, snakes and lizards recall mortality and prehistory – the era of chaos. The pen’s body is made of black pearlized celluloid set in 18 karat gold and silver. Only one-thousand nine-hundred and twelve of these limited edition pens will be created, each one with a finish handcrafted by skilled artisans. Twenty of them will be made from solid 18 karat gold and encrusted with precious stones.

The only way to make this pen more luxurious is to personally fill every ink chamber with my own semen

For three minutes let’s listen to Sylvester explain his love of luxury pens, the significance of the skull in the wider context of Italian renaissance art and his love of Italy in general.

What we’re discovering here, together, is that these endorsements start to slowly make sense when you think about them. But:


The technology for resurrecting dead celebrities and spokespeople has come a long way. In Victorian times there was an advert for ‘mummy powder’ featuring the recently discovered King Tutankhamen climbing out of his sarcophagus. But these are modern times, and we can do better than some stupid matt painting! The list of people resurrected for the advertising industry is as long as my arm. For example: Fred Astaire, Cary Grant, Sid Vicious, Gene Kelly, John Wayne, Joey Ramone, Steve McQueen, Audrey Hepburn, Freddie Mercury, Kurt Cobain, Princess Diana and Gene Kelly a second time.

This can offend or charm – Kurt Cobain’s posthumous advert for Dr Martens Boots was recalled and the ad agency was fired, for example. However, comedian Bob Monkhouse died in 2003 from prostate cancer and would like you to know that it’s not any kind of fun:

On the other hand, it can be downright creepy. Orville Redenbacher always used to star in the adverts for his gourmet popping corn (popcorn to you and me) and it seems dying in 1995 hasn’t stopped him. Bob Monkhouse’s resurrection was quite good. This one isn’t:

Is it the astonished fear in the barista’s face? The cold, dead light shining from behind Orville’s CGI eyes? The strange disconnection between his face and head?

Resurrecting the dead is a tricky business. If you don’t do it perfectly right you’ll end up deep inside the ‘uncanny valley’ and everyone will be freaked out by your creation. Or you’ll be faced with an army of undead stumbling and shuffling towards you, powered by the cursed souls of the damned, with bloodthirsty energy swirling from their open, gaping, rotted maws. Either way it ruins your weekend.

OJ Simpson

In the eyes of US justice, OJ is not a murderer. Luckily he’s also a criminal, kidnapper, robber and user of deadly weapons, so The Man can still send him to jail. Before OJ ruined his career by being found innocent he had a pretty good gig as an American Footballer and film actor. For a long time he was the face of Hertz car rental company. Hertz car rental had nothing to do with his iconic low-speed chase, in which he drove around at about 35mph for about two hours before turning himself in. To his mother. But when a car figures so prominently in your extended high-profile mental breakdown – during which it seems as if you’re trying to escape a murder charge – the car rental company you endorse by running through airports is probably going to be… displeased.

Run, OJ, run! Wait, no, just admit guilt and take responsibility. Stop running!

Mikhail Gorbachev

Mikhail Gorbachev was the president of the USSR. For his pro-freedom domestic reforms and his instrumental role in ending the decades-long Cold War, Mikhail won the Nobel peace prize. But Nobel prizes don’t pay the bills (apart from the huge cash award) so the dignified political figure appeared in an advert for Pizza Hut.

Before I first saw that, I was expecting something weird and embarrassing. But no, it wasn’t as bad as I expected. Actually it worked out pretty well – summaries of Mikhail’s political successes and failures, then in the end we’re all cheering for him and for edge pizza. Political freedom and delicious pizza are all things to cheer about.

Mikhail has some significant balls. He’s withdrawn his limited support for Putin, stating his opinion as, “The electoral system we had was nothing remarkable but they have literally castrated it.” Not only that, but check out this advert for Louis Vuitton:

“A journey brings us face to face with ourselves”

Mikhail is being driven past one of the few remaining sections of the Berlin Wall. That’s a pretty powerful image, right? Well, it gets better. Look at the newspaper sticking out of his bag. If for some reason you can’t read Russian, it translates as “Murder of Litvinenko. Treason for $7000.”

In case you missed it, Litvinenko was a former Russian intelligence officer who swallowed some highly radioactive polonium-210 back in 2006. He accused the Russian government of putting it in his tea before finally succumbing to radiation poisoning in hospital several weeks later. What’s it doing being mentioned in this Louis Vuitton advert, featuring Cold War icons and a man who helped arrange a lasting peace? Well, Mikhail isn’t saying. When asked about it on a talk show, he replied with inoffensive words arranged into sentences that weren’t directly relevant – the standard response of all politicians to almost all questions.

To be fair, he may never have even noticed it in the bag; it’s hardly going to be his own bag, after all. It might not even have been there on the day, what with Photoshop etc. Does it even mean anything? Maybe the photo editor just had to cover up a headline or irrelevant advert on the newspaper, and putting in a relevant-sounding caption (or an inside joke) made the day go quicker.

The alternative is that someone, possibly Mikhail, knows more about the Litvinenko poisoning than they can safely say so they’re leaving a series of Da Vinci Code style clues.

Barry Scott / Billy Mays

It also works the other way around, of course. Starring in adverts has turned lots of people into celebrities, from the Mr Muscle guy to the infinite number of cereal mascots, all of whose names I still remember despite being a grown man. A good example of this is Barry Scott:

“BANG! And the dirt is gone!” will probably be what they write on Neil Burgess’s grave

The series of adverts are a few years old by now, but I’m betting most citizens of the UK still remember them. ‘HI, I’M BARRY SCOTT AND THIS IS CILLIT BANG!’ I hate to break it to you but Barry Scott doesn’t actually exist, and is played by an actor named Neil Burgess. Why did they decide they needed a shouting man to sell their cleaning fluid? Why did they decide that the shouting man should have a fake name?

It's possible they were trying to emulate Billy Mays. Speaking of which, who would have thought that the star of adverts, commercials, infomercials and infotainment would get so much sympathy and emotion when he died? Literally the first time I heard about Billy Mays is when I heard that he died – he wasn’t a big thing in the UK. Sure, some of that sympathy might have been ‘ironic’, but I’ve looked into his smiling, sincere eyes and I have known peace (despite his yelling), so some of that emotion must have been genuine.

Interestingly, since his death they have been phasing out his adverts, even replacing him with other people using CGI. Make of that what you will.

PS: I didn't include any of the hundreds of weird Japanese ads starring celebrities. If I did then this would be a 3-volume book.


Lisa79846 said...

Celebrities may distract attention from the brand in ads such that consumers notie the stars but have trouble remembering the advertised brand.

celebrity endorsements

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