For those of us who have grown up in the age of television in North America, the inescapable reality of TV advertising has been as much a part of our shared experience as singing the national anthem in public school. Commercials are reflections of our society as we would wish it to be; clothes dried without the anguish of static cling, dishes washed to a mirror-like, radioactive polish, Kitty Litter that smells and tastes like licorice and countless other conveniences that have made our lives a consumer paradise. But what about those epic, memorable ads that didn’t quite turn out as they were intended? Aren’t these the ones that we actually remember? No actors could possibly attempt and fail to convey these Mad Men messages as brilliantly as our heralded athletes. Where are the accolades for those brilliant examples of why celebr-athletes have consistently made some of the worst thespians in the history of moving film?
Why, the party’s right here, baby;
10) Alex Ovechkin – Eastern Motors
Washington Capitals superstar Alexander Ovechkin was somehow persuaded to offer 8.5 minutes of his valuable time between Orthodontist visits to produce this masterpiece of bad judgement. Despite clearly begging for some means of intoxication during the ad, Ovie wails like a drunken camel throughout the 50 seconds of pure torment for a District of Columbia automotive business. One can only assume that the purpose of the commercial is to promote the idea that this is one sadistic company that will go to great lengths to torture their customers with inhuman caterwauling from the pits of a demonic underworld. Either that, or there was a junkload of vodka available on set.
9) David Beckham – Meiji Chocolate
Soccer demi-God and tattoo billboard David Beckham has endorsed more products than Tony Little, but still had enough guts to hawk Meiji Chocolate with this bizarre, ‘Garden of Beckham’ fantasy sequence. It’s apparent that not only must we all purchase tons of this fattening stuff, but that we mustn’t forget that at all times our new Overlord Beckham will be watching, just waiting for his opportunity to vocalize his inner Eliza Doolittle and shatter your illusions of his cultured suavity; ‘Like bloomin’ flowers…’
8) Larry Bird, Julius Irving and Magic Johnson – Converse
You can watch commercials for the next 200 years and still not find a gem like this; Bird, Dr. J and Magic demonstrate exactly why athletes generally make terrible actors, especially as they debate the merits of owning a shoe that looks like it was made in 1902. This was still good enough to land the three of them in their own short lived CBS sitcom, ‘Ballin’ It!’ Needless to say, airing the pilot was not among The Playboy Channel’s better ideas.
7) Bronson Arroyo – Champion Ford
It doesn’t get more ‘real’ than current Arizona Diamondbacks ace pitcher Bronson Arroyo digging deep into his own personal angst to pull out a buried memory with which to motivate this Norma Desmond moment for a local car dealership. No amount of training, lessons or teaching could possibly give more meaning to the word ‘sh*t,’ though the company did eventually drop him over an excessive use of profanity during his appearance at a staff Bris.
6) Mickey Mantle – MP27
Former NY Yankee slugger Mickey Mantle found himself dodging gigantic bacterium while fighting for his life among these mutated, enormous feet during this commercial from 1976 for an anti-athlete’s foot spray. Few people know that Mantle graduated at the top of his class from the Fhieu School of Podiatry after retiring from baseball, and was uniquely qualified to knock this pungent affliction right out of the park. This was to be his first excursion into the realms of deepest, darkest foot odor, though sadly Mantle’s last known location was somewhere near the left instep.
5) Shaquille O’Neal and Hakeem Olajuwon – Taco Bell
Determined to be the sole American fast food outlet most associated with inoperable diseases, Taco Bell broke the bank in the mid ’90s to entice these two NBA legends into a 30 second commercial for a taco with twice the murderous potential of its rivals, and that highlights the historically accurate saga of two enormous black men growing up in late nineteenth century Wales. The single saving grace of the entire affair was the brilliant decision to limit the two stars to nary a word for the duration of the ad; the vision of these behemoths riding a tandem bicycle while wearing schoolboy uniforms and carrying what looks to be a lethal volume of Taco Bell products will be difficult to erase.
4) Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine – Nike
You’ve gotta hand it to Nike for their unwavering commitment to producing some of the most memorable commercials featuring athletes in the history of television. Unfortunately, this little slice of homo-erotic weirdness definitely isn’t one of them. It’s hard to know just how much money convinced these two Hall of Famers to sit bare-chested in a sauna and ask one another ‘Do you feel bigger?’ as though this is a normal post game experience for a professional athlete. It isn’t. The strangest part of the ad is that not only is the product in question unannounced, most viewers didn’t even care as they were simply stunned into silence.
3) Ric Flair – North Carolina Lottery
The obvious logic of employing a former scion of professional wrestling (otherwise known as ‘Organized Con-Artistry,’) to promote the merits of encouraging seniors to spend their paltry pension money on something as sure fire as winning a state-wide lottery, is not open to debate. That Ric Flair would require and receive gobs of money to do so however, remains very much in question. A fake athlete from a fake sport hawing the fake chances of winning a lottery seems to have hit the trifecta of false hope without even trying very hard. If you listen closely, you can still hear that adorable old lady saying ‘WHOOOOOOO!!!!!’ from the ICU.
2) Ray Lewis – Old Spice Swagger Body Spray
Celebrated NFL linebacker Ray Lewis was a man with a mission in this ad; fated to ride a gigantic crow while covered in soap suds a la John Wayne while blasting planets to shreds with laser beams and controlling the kickass dual rocket boosters that emerge from the immense bird’s cloaca. That’s a heckuva lot to jam into a 30 second bit, and is likely as close to understanding a David Lynch film as most of us are going to get. For my money, Ray’s gonna need a whackload of that body wash just to mask the scent of riding on a monstrous Blackbird across the universe.
1) Joe Namath – Beautymist pantyhose
This one is undoubtedly an oldie, but a goodie. This ad from 1971 capitalizes on Namath‘s sex symbol status and popularity in what is still considered one of the most memorable TV commercials of all time. Namath’s reputation as a macho athlete combined with his playful and lighthearted appearance wearing women’s pantyhose was a real reflection of the changing mores of the times and propelled him into the stratosphere of television pitchmen. It’s fair to say that nothing like it had ever been done before and it retains a hallowed spot in the annals of television commercials.