You’ve seen the advertisements that show a film star, a popstar, or a professional athlete holding a company’s product and smiling, looking impossibly enthusiastic. And you’ve seen the commercials that feature a celebrity using a company’s product while simultaneously chattering about how they use the product and love it! All of those ads are part of a marketing technique that companies use to make regular people more interested in their product, because, “hey, if a celebrity likes this product it must be good, right?”
Most the time these advertising campaigns work. Most of the time people are lured in by a big celebrity and feel somehow more secure knowing that their favorite pro-athlete is using the same product as them (whether they really are is never really known). But what happens when big brands pick the wrong celebrity to endorse their brand? What happens when the celebrity that is supposed to be selling the brand actually does the exact opposite? Celebrity brand endorsements fail all the time, and they will continue to fail occasionally, and add to the list of celebrity endorsement fails.
10. O.J. Simpson for Hertz
Having a celebrity to endorse your rental cars is a big deal. Having a celebrity that’s a football star and semi well known actor is an even bigger deal. So you can imagine just how excited the Hertz company was when the contracted O.J. Simpson to endorse their product in the 70’s. His popularity kept him bringing in the cash for Hertz well into the 80’s and 90’s.
But then something happened to Simpson’s fame. Something the company was never going to be able to sweep under the rug. Something like…oh yes, the possible murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson in 1994. Truth be told, Hertz was already ousting Simpson back in 1992 when reports of domestic violence surfaced and hit the media.
9. Charlie Sheen for Hanes
The life of Charlie Sheen has been filled with many career successes, but also many many personal lows. The large amount of his film success came during the mid-eighties, when he starred in movies such as Platoon, Wall Street, Young Guns, Eight Men Out, Major League, and Hot Shots!. In the 2000’s his success came from television roles on Spin City and Two and a Half Men.
But during his success in film and television, his personal life was a roller coaster laced with hard drugs like cocaine, lots of alcohol, and a ton of women. In 1998 Sheen overdosed after injecting himself with cocaine. He was arrested and put on probation, but his use of drugs continued and he became known as a Hollywood bad boy.
Despite all of his poor behavior, Hanes chose Sheen as the face of their underwear ads. In 2008, the mega brand took a chance on Sheen and invested millions into their ad campaigns, all centered around Charlie Sheen. But, in 2009 Sheen was arrested on charges of domestic violence against his now ex-wife, Brooke Mueller. Not long after he was removed from the Plaza Hotel after a night of hookers, drugs, and about $7,000 in hotel room damage.
Ultimately Sheen was dropped from Hanes and the advertising campaign was suspended indefinitely.
8. The Olsen Twins for Milk
Got Milk commercials became a popular spot for celebrities after its beginnings in 1994. The educational campaign for the dairy industry featured celebrities such as Taylor Swift, Reggie Bush, David Beckham, Carrie Underwood, Shaq, and Demi Lovato. Print ads were seen in magazines around the world, boosting milk sales for nearly twenty years.
But in 2004, the MilkPEP board chose to add the Olsen twins to their array of celebrities donning a white milk mustache. It seemed like a no brainer; Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen were at the height of their popularity and making millions off of other endorsement deals. But, after the ad was published the bottom fell out for milk mustache lovers everywhere. Rumors had already by flying about the Olsen twins’ use of drugs. But then additional rumors of Mary-Kate Olsen’s oddly thin figure became front page news across the country. She appeared stick thin with her bones jutting from her tiny body.
Olsen checked herself into a treatment program for “health-related issues.” With one of their stars not looking too healthy and obviously not drinking anything more than water, the Olsen “Got Milk” campaign was pulled. According to the company it was out of sensitivity to Mary-Kate Olsen, though one can see how the image of an emaciated celebrity does not coincide with the milk company’s healthy direction.
7. Eric Clapton for Anheuser-Busch
Anyone who is found of Michelob or of awesome guitarists may recall the 1987, “The Night Belongs to Michelob” campaign. A few rock stars were part of the initial series of commercials including Steve Winwood and Phil Collins. And then, Anheuser-Busch managed to add Eric Clapton to their list of celebrity endorsers. Already well known as as a guitar master, Clapton’s popularity was nearly at its peak in the rock n’roll scene after the release of the hit “Layla.” The commercial that featured Eric Clapton was just about as 80’s as a commercial could get. Smoky bar, ladies with big hair, and Eric Clapton singing “After Midnight”.
So what could make this endorsement deal flop? How about Eric Clapton checking into rehab. It was no secret that Clapton had been a previous user of heroin, but that was in his past. What the company didn’t know, or didn’t care to know, was that Clapton had been dealing with alcoholism for a bit of time.
After Clapton’s announcement of impending sobriety, Anheuser-Busch pulled the commercial and terminated their contract with Clapton.
6. Oprah Winfrey and Microsoft Surface
If you want your product to launch in a major way, just get Oprah to say she likes it. That’s exactly what Microsoft did with their first table, the Microsoft Surface. Oprah listed the Microsoft Surface Tablet as one of her favorite things in 2012. On her website Oprah wrote, “The Surface, Microsoft’s first tablet, feels like a Mercedes-Benz to me, people!”
No doubt Oprah’s backing of the tablet upped Microsoft’s profits…until the media mogul made a tiny mistake on Twitter. With a following of 14.8 million people, Oprah sent the message, “love that Surface!” But there was one small problem with her message; the Tweet was sent from Oprah’s iPad.
Apple users everywhere rejoiced, delighting in the fact that the Surface’s ads were coming from an Apple product. Some didn’t find much fault with Winfrey, noting that she merely used her iPad to send the tweet – that didn’t mean she wasn’t otherwise a Microsoft user. But it did bring to consumers’ attentions that the Microsoft Surface didn’t even have an app for Twitter…
5. Lebron James and Samsung
Lebron James is best known for his moves on the basketball court. He has been playing for the NBA since 2003, moving between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Miami Heat. During his four years with the Heat, from 2010 -2014, James was tapped by Samsung to promote their latest Galaxy devices. According to his contract, James must carry around the Galaxy smartphone if he wants to receive his millions in endorsement dollars.
And Lebron James has done just that. But he has also a taken to venting his frustrations on Twitter. One Tweet managed to get James in a bit of trouble with Samsung. On March 12, 2014, James Tweeted, “My phone just erased everything it had in it and rebooted. One of the sickets feelings I’ve ever had in my life!!!” James of course was talking about his Samsung Galaxy. Considering James is followed by a little of 12 million people, his tweet was immediately picked up and became a media headline.
The tweet later disappeared and was replaced by: “Close call. Wheew! Got all my info back. Gamer! Lol.” According to sources James’ phone was brought back to life with the help of the good Samsung tech people.
4. Southwest Airlines and SeaWorld
Children everywhere love to see killer whales and dolphins leap out of the air and come splashing down into a massive pool of water. But what they, and their parents do not love is the thought of the beautiful sea animals of SeaWorld being held in captivity and abused. After a SeaWorld employee was killed by a killer whale and the documentary BlackFish aired, SeaWorld began to receive a lot of heat over the treatment of their animals.
After a more than 20 year partnership with SeaWorld, Southwest Airlines caved under the pressure of an animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Since 1988, Southwest Airlines adhered to the agreement which included painting Southwest planes with dolphins, penguins and several other SeaWorld animals. However, in 2014 a petition begun by Change.org was signed by over 32,000 people to request Southwest Airlines’ agreement with SeaWorld be broken.
3. Madonna and Pepsi
Way back in 1989, Madonna was rising to fame through her pop songs. PepsiCo was one of the two major beverage companies worldwide. In past years, PepsiCo was lucky enough to sign Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston as two of their celebrity endorsers. Looking to further their popularity through another celebrity endorsement, PepsiCo turned to Madonna.
At the time, the pop star had just released the track “Like a Prayer”. It was insanely popular on the radio. But then Madonna released the video to accompany the song. Due to one too many burning crucifixes in the video, the video saw some serious backlash. Pope John Paul II went as far as to issue a statement asking people not to attend Madonna’s concerts in Italy. Fearing a negative effect on their brand, the PepsiCo people decided to pull the ads.
2. Chris Brown and Got Milk
Chris Brown and Rihanna were a hip hop power couple until their relationship took a violent turn in February of 2009. After a pre-Grammy party the couple was spotted arguing in Brown’s vehicle at which time he assaulted Rihanna. The singer’s violent ways didn’t sit well with the dairy industry who had been featuring Brown in several of their “Got Milk” ads. According to the Body by Milk Campaign statement, “We are very proud and protective of the image of the Milk Mustache campaign and the responsible message it sends to teens.”
Along with the public statement, the Body by Milk Campaign dropped Brown from its ads immediately. And its a good thing they did, Brown was unable to comply with his community service hours and wound up with a felony assault charge, a hit-and-run charge and a dismissal from rehab before he was tossed in jail for several months in 2014.
1. Tiger Woods and Accenture
For years Tiger Woods the king of golf. He won open after open, all with humble grace and doting wife, Elin Nordegren by his side. His squeaky clean lifestyle and stellar golf game made him the optimal endorser for big brands such as Gillette, Gatorade, GM Motors, AT&T, and Accenture. For years, it seemed that Woods fame and golfing success would only continue to grow.
But then 2009 came along. And so did the appearance of Wood’s many, many, many extramarital affairs. Handfuls of women came forward and confessed to sleeping with Woods, many of them on more than one occasion. With his personal life not so squeaky clean anymore Woods tried to right his mistakes through a formal apology but the American people weren’t buying it, and neither were the brands.
Despite the long six year relationship, Accenture was one of the first brands to pull the plug on their campaigns with Tiger Woods. It didn’t take the consulting firm long to remove Woods from its name, despite the fact that the golfer appeared on 83% of the company’s ads. According to Accenture, their campaign is about high performance and Mr. Woods “just wasn’t a metaphor for high performance anymore.”
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