There are many things that mark someone out as a ‘celebrity’: the magazine cover photo shoots, the millions of Twitter followers, and the constantly being photographed in public doing absolutely nothing. But nothing quite says you’ve arrived like a celebrity sponsorship and endorsement campaign. Or rather, a particularly bizarre celebrity endorsement campaign. Now we’re not talking the conventional athlete + sports brand campaign, or actress + beauty products; we’re looking at those more puzzling of relations between big brands and celebrities. Everyone who is anyone these days has applied their brand of celebrity to some product; from Mr T and his cereal (really) to Ludacris and his own brand of cognac (oh yes, really) anyone whose name carries weight is getting a piece of the celebrity endorsement pie.
But the relationship between celebrity and sponsor is trickier than you may imagine: once hired, the celeb become a sort of constant brand ambassador, ready to champion their product of choice at photo calls and in interviews, and to be publically seen as a proponent of the brand. This, often, is where some celebs run into trouble: while many are willing to sign on the dotted line and become a rep for a well-known brand, celebrities often find it difficult to reconcile their ethics and ethos with that of the brand and don’t quite manage to assimilate the product into their lives the way the multimillion dollar deal dictates. Or, more often, they just don’t do what the brand wants them too. In either case, reneging on a sponsorship deal can be a controversial – and costly – measure for any celebrity. For a lesson in what happens when the power of big business clashes with the power of celebrity, have a look at these shocking examples of incidences when celebs have courted controversy with their brands of choice.
10. Kirstie Alley and Jenny Craig
Any child from the 1990s will remember Kirstie Alley as the down to earth, no nonsense figure of Diana Barrows from the Olsen Twins classic, It Takes Two. She also appeared in the classic sitcom, Cheers, as well as her own nineties series, Veronica’s Closet. The actress has also had some recent high-profile battles with her weight which the press have been quick to lambast her for. But like any hard-working celebrity, Alley knows how to make the best of a bad situation, and not only did she lost the weight, she also bagged herself a contract with Jenny Craig in the process. Which is great, except for the fact that Alley didn’t stay as skinny as she appeared in the endorsement campaign, prompting Jenny Craig to drop her from the brand. Alley saved face however, turning her weight battles into an opportunity: she has appeared on the US version of Dancing with the Stars and starred in the short-lived TV series, Fat Actress.
9. Helena Bonham-Carter and Yardley Cosmetics
With an enviable acting career and an A-lister profile, perhaps it’s easy to see how cosmetics brand Yardley picked up on British actress Helena Bonham Carter in the early 1990s. The star is known for her period roles and refined, aristocratic characters, not to mention her smouldering looks. What Yardley failed to take into account however is that it is, of course, Bonham Carter’s job as an actress to appear as something she is not – and this seemed to work a little too well in this case. Where Yardley and the rest of the world saw a smouldering, good-looking aristocrat, Bonham Carter herself is actually – as is well knows these days – a low-maintenance hippie. The brand dropped her after Cater questioned in an interview why she was even offered the contract, given that she never wears make-up. Well, it’s certainly one way to get out of a contract.
8. Rihanna and Nivea
A more recent sponsorship gone sour deal was in 2011, when skincare brand Nivea signed singer Rihanna as the face of their brand. Nivea – which is owned by parent company Beiersdorf – prides itself on the brand’s accessibility and family image. Now while Rihanna may have great skin, family-friendly she is not: the star is regularly photographed in a variety of risqué outfits, beer bottle in hand (she has recently signed a deal with Budweiser), ready for a night on the tiles. So it was not surprising, although it was amusing, when the brand dropped the Umbrella singer for being “too sexy”. The deal with Nivea was cited by Forbes at the time as one of the key factors that put Rihanna on their wealthiest 30 under 30 list, so the singer was less than pleased to see the relationship sour.
7. Madonna and Pepsi
The first of our entries surrounding Pepsi, in 1989 PepsiCo signed a multimillion dollar contract with singer Madonna that included several commercials and a sponsored tour. PepsiCo reportedly paid $5 million alone to use the singer’s “Like a Prayer” song in their commercials. That all went a tad sour, however, when executives at Pepsi actually saw the music video for the singer’s latest song and decided it was out of touch with the soft drink’s image. It seems that no one bothered to watch the music video and so were unaware that Madonna would gyrate around a burning cross during the video as well as bear witness to sexual violence. Needless to say Christians throughout the country were outraged and the PepsiCo brand dropped the singer.
6. Ludacris and Pepsi
Fast forward 13 years and it seems that the executive board of PepsiCo still hadn’t learnt their lesson about celebrity sponsorship. In 2002 the brand signed rapper Ludacris, only to later realise that, like almost every rapper out there, his lyrics are the subject of much debate. Fox News had declared the rapper’s lyrics “immoral” and a bad influence on young people. It seems that Pepsi took these words to heart and called time on their relationship with Ludacris. Which would have been fine, except for the fact that they replaced the singer with an altogether more controversial figure, Ozzy Osbourne. Osbourne has had a very public struggle with alcohol and substance abuse, has been arrested on numerous occasions and at his worst point was arrested for the attempted murder of his wife Sharon Osbourne. The sponsorship switch was viewed by Ludacris, and others, as being racially motivated. In the end, the case was settled, with PepsiCo making a $3 million donation to the Ludacris foundation, a non-profit working in Atlanta.
5. Scarlett Johansson and Sodastream
ScarJo encountered a highly publicized conflict of interests when she became a spokesperson for Sodastream with a pretty sexy advert due to run during the Super Bowl 2014. At the time Johansson was an ambassador for Oxfam, but her agreement with Sodastream conflicted with Oxfam’s position on Israel and Palestine. Sodastream, controversially, has its headquarters in the West Bank in Israel. Oxfam believed the business was ‘further(ing) the ongoing poverty and denial of rights of the Palestinian communities that we work to support’. So Johansson made the decision to step down from her position with Oxfam – controversially choosing a commercial sponsorship deal over charitable work. Her justification? She felt an NGO shouldn’t take a political stance.
4. Jessica Simpson and Herself
We all remember the early glory days of reality TV when Jessica Simpson and her then-husband Nick Lachey let their fans grab a glimpse of their day-to-day lives. And what we all saw was a marriage that was blatantly destined for failure, and a talented singer who had some serious confusion about the real world. Remember her chicken/tuna confusion? It’s fair to say that Simpson is not exactly a reader of the fine print when it comes to business deals, something that became very obvious with her own clothing line. Simpson has a $100 million deal with her own line of jeans, which she could cash in provided she wore her own line of jeans and no other brand. Seems like the easiest way to make $100 million – just keep wearing the jeans your own company makes, right? Well, that is exactly what Jess did not do, and was caught out when photos emerged of her in competitor brand True Religion’s jeans. The contract was voided and Simpson lost out to the tune of $100 million.
3. Dior and their Creative Director, John Galliano
This next entry is something of an unconventional celebrity-brand dynamic, as this British designer was no mere celebrity. Since 1996, Galliano had been creative director for the high-end fashion house Dior, and was responsible for an iconic and over-the-top style that fed both the red carpet and the street style of the day. Under Galliano, Dior had soared to new heights in terms of revenue and his designs revitalised the Paris fashion house. All this came to an abrupt end in 2011 when the designer was fired by the brand, after being recorded making drunkenly aggressive anti-Semitic comments in a Paris bar.
Such hate speech is illegal in France and the designer appeared in court where he was fined $25,000. In addition to this, the brand’s leading celebrity sponsor was none other than actress Natalie Portman, who makes no secret of her Jewish heritage. In a him-or-me incident, Dior chose their leading lady, and since then Galliano has struggled to make a comeback in terms of his career. He has since apologised for the incident and now designs under his own label.
2. O.J. Simpson and Hertz
These days the name O.J Simpson is synonymous with the former actor’s acquittal of his wife’s murder and that of her friend Ronald Goldman. These days, Simpson is behind bars for numerous federal offences but amazingly there was a time when sponsors were knocking down Simpson’s door. Since the 1970s the footballer-turned-actor had been a spokesperson for the car rental company Hertz, reportedly receiving up to $550,000 per year for his endorsements. Of course, all this came crashing down in 1992 when Simpson was charged with the murder of his former wife and her friend, prompting Hertz to dump him. The partnership would also seem to be in bad taste given that Simpson would famously be involved in a low-speed police chase down the Los Angeles freeway.
1. Kate Moss and Everyone
The most famous example of how not to bite the hand that feeds comes from the world’s famous supermodel. Croydon-born Kate may not be the tallest, the youngest, or even these days the skinniest of supermodels, but she remains the most famous, for her glittering career as much as for her notoriously wild ways. A bevvy of wayward boyfriends including Johnny Depp and of course the ex-Libertines singer, Pete Doherty, meant that everyone knew that Kate was a bit of a party girl.
However, Kate’s reckless ways endangered her career when she was photographed allegedly snorting cocaine at a party. The picture was published by British tabloid the Daily Mirror under the headline “Cocaine Kate.” Her contracts with the likes of Chanel, H&M and Burberry were terminated, not to mention her long term contract with the cosmetics company Rimmel. The joke was on them, however, as – in spite of the fact that Moss lost millions of dollars though the being dropped from these campaigns – she still managed to double her income in the following five years.