George Parker: some of the ad stars that didn’t shine

Reading in MAA that Mother’s new campaign for Sky will continue to feature Idris Elba, I felt driven to burden MAA readers with my thoughts on “Star Fucking” in the ad biz.

For years the title was held by BBDO, New York, an agency which over the years has never seen a show biz personality it couldn’t shoe-horn into a TV campaign, the most famous example being Michael Jackson for Pepsi. It was understood that the pre-paedophile notoriety star would appear in TV, billboards and print ads, perhaps even as life size cardboard cut-outs in supermarkets. The star would sing, dance and pose with the product.

Famously, during one shoot, he managed to have his hair set on fire. Still, the evil fucker trousered millions before moving on to the next non-competing sponsor.

Today, it’s different. Today, Beyoncé gets paid thirty million dollars to be Pepsi’s “Global Brand Ambassador.” Obviously this is a position of heavy responsibility as she is being relied on to bring to the marketing program a unique mix of creativity and inspiration, which so far seems to be little more than a somewhat expected mix of singing, dancing and posing with the product.

At the same time, arch enemy Coke is shoveling millions in the direction of Taylor Swift, who apart from singing, is seen swigging Coke whilst writing songs in her high school yearbook about all the ex-boyfriends who have “done her wrong.”

Still, pop stars pimping soda is not exactly revolutionary and has been going on since the days when Coke actually contained cocaine. But now, even stranger things are happening as we are seeing entertainers endorsing, promoting and becoming spokespeople for technology products.

Early in 2013, singer, song writer Alicia Keyes, was hired for several million dollars as their “Global Creative Director,” by R.I.M, the Canadian creators of the Blackberry, a communications device that for years management “Movers & Shakers” wouldn’t be caught dead without. Until as inevitably happens, something better, namely the smart phone, came along.

By this time R.I.M. was sinking faster than the Titanic and within a year Ms Keyes lost her exalted position as “Global Creative Director” and went back to singing songs.

Moving on to Intel. In its wisdom the giant chip making company decided to hire hip hop musician and founding member of The Black Eyed Peas, will-i-am, as its “Director of Creative Innovation,” no doubt for several million dollars. Perhaps he has a hitherto undisclosed in-depth knowledge of micro-circuitry.

Maybe he’ll incorporate Intel chips in the cars he will build with his planned car company, I.Am.Auto. However, at the time of writing, the only contribution I can find from him is a hugely embarrassing video of him talking about corporate logos and containing such creative innovation tips as… “Your logo should work in both black & white and color… If you make it too small, it won’t be powerful…We have to think of what India is going to do to the world… We should also think about China… ‘Cos a new font will emerge.”

Yes, he is warning us that everything will change and “a new font will emerge.” So there you have it, you can’t buy advice like that for peanuts.

But forget Beyoncé, Alicia Keys, Taylor Swift and the proliferating sports jocks, a few short years ago HTC, a Taiwanese smart phone company, coughed up twelve million dollars to sign up… Drum roll please… Robert Downey Jr.

With flawless logic, Martin Kang, HTC’s head of marketing explains: “Downey Jr’s role as technology magnate Tony Stark by day and Iron Man by night in three blockbuster movies has a clear synergy with HTC’s position as a technology manufacturer.”


So essentially because Robert Downey Jr. pretends to be a fictional tech head in the movies, he’s the perfect fit for the brand ambassador role? I guess that makes as much sense as the old pharmaceutical company TV spots featuring a guy in a white coat pimping arse itch powder who says…”I’m not a doctor, but I play a doctor on TV,” so buy Acme Arse Itch powder.

The funny thing is that the very first truly awful spot in the Downey campaign was a direct lift from the opening scenes of Putney Swope, the best advertising film EVER, which was directed by… Another drum roll please, Robert Downey Sr. Yeah, his Dad. How fucking great is that?

So, here’s my final thought… Don’t piss away good money on celebrities. They rarely produce value for your money. Instead, take everyone that works for you on a two week cruise, or give them an unexpected Christmas bonus. I guarantee these kinds of actions will do far more for your business than any Global Douchenozzle Ambassador ever will.

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About George Parker

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George Parker has spent 40 years on Madison Avenue. He’s won Lions, CLIOs, EFFIES, and the David Ogilvy Award. His blog is adscam.typepad.com, which is required reading for those looking for a gnarly view of the world’s second oldest profession.” His latest book, Confessions of a Mad Man, makes the TV show Mad Men look like Sesame Street.