George Parker: that’s the trouble with celebrities in ads – not enough Kate Moss

The recent brouhaha about the Bruce Springsteen Jeep Super Bowl Spot should be a warning to agencies and clients that before shelling out millions of bucks for some so-called “Star” they should do a little background research into their recent goings on. Bruce got his DUI in November, whilst driving, not a Jeep, but his vintage pink Cadillac – a fact easily uncovered in today’s digital matrix miasma of information – before shooting the spot. Still, celebrities getting up to “naughties” is nothing new.

As I recently commented here, when it comes to endorsing and promoting temporarily disgraced sports icons, Nike takes the gold having enriched sex maniacs, drug users, maid rapers and dog fighters. When Phil Knight, founder and CEO of Nike was asked if he would never use Lance Armstrong again, he replied… “Never say never.” It’s all about the bucks baby.

Back in my Mad Man days in New York in the 60’s and 70’s, few stars of stage, screen and sports demeaned themselves by appearing in ads. There were some exceptions: Ronald Reagan pitched Chesterfield cigarettes, and believe it or not, Robert De Niro did a spot for AMC cars. Most however, preferred to do stuff outside of America. Sylvester Stallone made regular trips to Japan to shoot campaigns for “Ito Ham.” A perfect product name for a perfect actor.

By the time the 80’s rolled around the stars had become more relaxed about appearing in TV spots, with perhaps the best example being Orson Welles’s long running commitment to Paul Masson wine… “We will sell no wine before its time.” Never to forget the original takes where he is pissed out of his mind! When Orson passed away, he was replaced by no less than Sir John Gielgud. Big bucks indeed. And whilst on the subject of Orson, don’t miss his recording for Birds Eye frozen peas in Britain, where he rips the arsehole out of the agency and client -delightful!

However, we should remember that whilst most American agencies use stars merely as spokespeople for products and services, UK agencies employ them primarily as actors. Some of the best examples being the use of Joan Collins and Leonard Rossiter for Cinzano, or Dudley Moore for Barclaycard. Classics.

Perhaps the ultimate example of American agencies reliance on show biz folks was BBDO New York who became known on Madison Avenue as the “Star Fuckers.” Even to the point where they set fire to Michael Jackson’s hair whilst shooting a Pepsi commercial. They also managed to get every single client on the roster to cough up for campaigns featuring Jason Alexander of Seinfeld fame. And yes, he’s still going strong with a spot for Tide in the recent Super Bowl, even though throughout most of it it’s just his face on a sweatshirt. And even though Britney spears ex-husband Jason Alexander was arrested two weeks ago on DUI and drug charges. I can absolutely assure you; it was a different Jason Alexander.

As for me, if I was still doing ads, I’d have Kate Moss in every single one.

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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.