After Nike signed Tiger Woods as a brand ambassador, sale of golf apparel and footwear doubled. Companies have a lot to gain by linking usage of their products to high profile athletes and celebrities. In the best case, the partnership benefits both parties: the company sees an increase in sales and the celebrity earns a paycheck for promoting a product they likely already use.
Sometimes, however, things don’t go as smoothly as planned.
Such was the case in 2008 when professional golfer John Daly penned a deal with the restaurant chain Hooters. Daly was tapped to wear the Hooters logo during tournaments. In exchange, Hooters would provide Daly with free food and alcohol at its restaurants. It’s accurate to imagine this Faustian bargain as a real life version of Augustus Gloop inside the Chocolate Factory.
Daly quickly got himself arrested after drinking himself near catatonic at a Hooters in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He refused transport to the hospital and police reported that he was “extremely intoxicated and uncooperative.” No charges were officially filed, but Daly was detained for 24 hours. The lack of legal repercussions, though, doesn’t mean that everyone escaped the situation unscathed. The PGA suspended Daly for six months and the debacle surfed across the Internet on a wave of irony that still hasn’t entirely dissipated.
While a company can’t be held accountable for the actions of a brand ambassador, their bottom line can still suffer due to their lack of foresight. It is not unheard of for companies to select ambassadors whose very moral core is anathema to their desired image, ambassadors whose suspicious lack of integrity should have served as an omen of bad weather on the horizon.
And so, from parallel high speed chases set twenty years apart to alcoholics shilling alcohol to other alcoholics, here’s a list of eight celebrity endorsements that were doomed from the start.
8 O.J. Simpson & Hertz
Beginning in 1975, O.J. Simpson was one of car rental company Hertz’s leading endorsers. Before famously speeding down the 405 freeway in a white Ford Bronco, Simpson was seen speeding on foot through an airport terminal in a charcoal business suit to non-ironic cries of, “Go O.J., go!”
After 17 years as Hertz’s spokesman, Simpson was dropped in 1992 after uncontested allegations of domestic abuse were reported. Two years later, Simpson’s other notable pursuit came to an end when he was arrested for the murder of Nicole Brown and Ronald Goldman.
7 Chris Brown & Got Milk?
Continuing the theme of punch-happy superstars, Chris Brown was hired by the Milk Processor Education Program to feature in one of their iconic “Got Milk?” ads. The ad, which featured Brown tipping his hat mid-air featured copy stating that milk, “helps build muscle.”
The ads came into question after Brown pleaded guilty to using those milk muscles to assault his former girlfriend, Rihanna. In response to Brown’s admissions, the Dairy Council released a statement saying, “We are very proud and protective of the image of the Milk Mustache campaign and the responsible message it sends to teens. Mr. Brown's ad […] is scheduled to end this week.”
6 Oscar Pistorius & Thierry Mugler
Another stop on the street of — this time, allegedly — angry icons, brings us the story of Oscar Pistorius. Hired by Thierry Mugler Perfumes to promote their A*MEN line of colognes, the ads featured Pistorius trailing neon as he sprinted forward holding a bottle of the cologne.
On February 14, 2013, Pistorius was arrested for the shooting death of his girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp. In response to the charges, Thierry Mugler released a statement stating that, “out of respect and compassion for the families implicated in this tragedy, Thierry Mugler Perfumes has taken the decision to withdraw all its campaigns with Oscar Pistorius."
5 Madonna & Pepsi
The year 1989 rolled in on a Sunday and, like many Sundays, it opened with a prayer.
PepsiCo, looking for new advertising opportunities, signed a $5 million deal with singer Madonna to use her hit single Like a Prayer in a commercial for their product. The commercial, which featured scenes of Madonna wistfully reminiscing in a leather reclining chair, dancing with misunderstood street youths, strutting down the aisle of a gospel church and spending quality time with what appear to be Puritan schoolgirls offered a decidedly wholesome interpretation her source material.
A week later, Madonna’s music video for the song appeared on MTV with an entirely different take that featured the singer kissing a black saint, witnessing a murder and dancing in front of a field of burning crosses. With threats of boycotts looming, Pepsi yanked the commercial.
4 Akon & Verizon
Another example of companies hopping into bed with sketchy partners, in 2007 Verizon hatched a deal to sponsor the Gwen Stefani tour and her opening act, Akon. Verizon’s company slogan, “Join In” took a sharp turn into horrifying literality in April 2007 when Akon invited 15-year-old Danah Alleyne on stage. Alleyne, a Pastor’s daughter, was held by Akon who was caught on video "turning, twisting and even flipping [the girl's] body," while "mimicking sexual positions.”
Though Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds called for Akon to be prosecuted, no charges were officially filed. However, the video of Akon’s “performance” quickly went viral and resulted in Verizon terminating their relationship with the tour.
3 Charles Barkley & Weight Watchers
In 2012, Charles Barkley was hired on as a spokesman for Weight Watchers. During a January Hawks-Heat game where Barkley was acting as the announcer, he believed the cameras were off during a commercial break. Unfortunately, NBA.tv was still broadcasting and caught Barkley waxing philosophical about the nature of his endorsement, saying, “I thought this was the greatest scam going—getting paid for watching sports, this Weight Watchers thing is a bigger scam.”
Fortunately for Barkley, Weight Watchers took the comment in stride. The company released a statement saying, “We are thrilled that [Barkley] is having great success and inspiring millions of men to join him. We agree that being a spokesman for Weight Watchers is a pretty great gig.”
2 Jessica Simpson & Herself
The old adage that states that “you are your own worst enemy” proved true in 2006 when Jessica Simpson was sued to the tune of $100 million by the Tarrant Apparel Group. Simpson, who was hired by the group to promote an inexpensive line of clothing bearing her name, was accused of failing to support the clothing line and even refusing to be photographed while wearing the collection.
According to Tarrant, Simpson’s contract required her to be “actively involved” in the promotion of the clothing line and to wear items from it at “public events, shows, and appearances.” Instead, when Simpson was asked to name her favorite brand of jeans, she indicated True Religion rather than Tarrant’s JS line.
1 Eric Clapton & Anheuser-Busch
In 1987, Anheuser-Busch launched their “The Night Belongs to Michelob” campaign. Featuring big name rock acts, the company turned to Eric Clapton who produced a promotional version of his song “After Midnight” for them. Unfortunately, while the ads were airing Clapton was spending time in a rehab facility attempting to overcome his problem with alcohol.
Quickly canceling the contract, Anheuser-Busch and Clapton parted ways. Clapton overcame his drug and alcohol addictions and remained a mainstay on the music charts for years to come. Anheuser-Busch pursued other marketing opportunities, eventually gifting the world with the endearing catchphrase, “Whasssssuppp?”
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