RetroAnalysis: Unlikely Celebrity Endorsements

It’s hard not to be cynical about celebrity endorsements. On a certain level, we know that the celebrity probably doesn’t use the product, or at least wouldn’t if they didn’t have the endorsement deal. And when it’s a very prominent celebrity, there is always the suspicion that they must be short on money. Why else would they risk damaging their image by being in a commercial?

The best celebrity endorsements overcome those hurdles by featuring a natural, credible match between personality and product, like Michael Jordan for Nike or Ed McMahon for Budweiser. But then there are those that make it impossible for us to suspend our disbelief; where it was clear that the strategy was simply to find a famous face to associate with the offering, no matter how ill-fitting or random the pairing. Here are a few examples of the most unlikely celebrity endorsements…

Muhammad Ali for d-Con Roach Traps

In the 1970s, Muhammad Ali had all the makings of a perfect celebrity pitchman. Along with being one of the most famous human beings on the planet and an athlete of the highest order, he was also charismatic, funny and mesmerizing on television.  Given all that, why couldn’t he land an endorsement deal for a better product than roach traps? “The Greatest” should have been endorsing high-end products like cars or premium beers instead of having his face stuck on the packaging of a bug killing gadget.

Milton Berle for Lum’s

Lum’s was a national restaurant chain that peaked in popularity in the 1970s. Milton Berle was a comedian who peaked in popularity in the 1950s. It’s not clear why Lum’s picked Berle to be the face of their franchise, aside from the fact that he was famous. Perhaps they saw all of the characters Berle portrayed in the spot as an articulation of the different demographic groups in their target markets. That said, if I walked into a restaurant and saw four patrons who looked like those incarnations of Milton Berle, I’d turn around and head to the Denny’s down the street.

Eleanor Roosevelt for Good Luck Margarine

Throughout her public life, Mrs. Roosevelt was a respected humanitarian and arguably the most highly-regarded First Lady in U.S. history. So, her hawking any product would seem a little tacky. Given that the product in question is an obscure brand of margarine makes it even worse. Granted, it’s not as bad as “Eleanor Roosevelt for d-Con Roach Traps” would have been, but it’s still a baffling, low-class move by an otherwise classy woman.

Those three examples are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the history of unlikely celebrity endorsements. The Marketing Smart Aleck might just be back with more of these in the future. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with this…


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