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9 Bizarre Celebrity Product Endorsements

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We know it's hard to believe, but some celebrities will do anything for a buck. That sometimes means signing on to promote a product that has absolutely nothing to do with their public personas. Here are nine examples of especially bizarre product endorsements. 

1. Joe Namath // Beautymist Pantyhose

In 1974, Super Bowl MVP and New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath shaved his legs and put on Hanes Beautymist pantyhose for a national commercial. “Now, I don’t wear pantyhose," Broadway Joe said in the TV spot. “But if Beautymist can make my legs look good, imagine what they’ll do for yours.” The commercial was considered risqué and controversial at the time, but sales of Beautymist pantyhose skyrocketed, and Namath became an in-demand spokesman. 

In 1999, Namath told Newsweek he was game from the moment he saw the concept. "They came with ad storyboards to our office, and I got a laugh out of it," he recalled. "When they get up to me, I'm wearing green shorts and a football jersey … I just said, 'Let's go with our gut feeling. It's humor. I can handle the heat.' And it was a lot of fun, though when I looked at it, my stomach turned. I didn't like anything about the way I looked.”

2. Bob Dylan // Victoria's Secret

In 2004, viewers were bewildered when a Victoria's Secret commercial featuring rock icon Bob Dylan aired during American Idol. The lingerie company had already used Dylan's music in previous ads, and one day, CEO Les Wexner asked him if he'd like to be in a commercial himself. Funny enough, in a 1965 interview, Dylan was asked what might make him sell out. His reply: "Ladies' undergarments."

3. Muhammad Ali // d-Conn Roach Traps   

In the late '70s and early '80s, at the height of his popularity as boxing's Heavyweight Champion of the World, Muhammad Ali agreed to endorse d-Conn Roach Traps. He was featured in television commercials, in print ads (which featured the line "I think they are beautiful. ‘Specially since my picture is on the box!") and on the boxes of traps themselves.    

5. and 6. Penelope and Monica Cruz, Helen Mirren // Nintendo

In 2012, Penelope Cruz and younger sister Monica appeared in a commercial for New Super Mario Bros. 2 for the Nintendo 3DS XL. The advertisement featured some good old-fashioned sibling rivalry as the actresses raced through the video game as Mario and Luigi. Penelope lost, and had to keep up her end of the bet by cosplaying as the mustachioed Mario. 

Helen Mirren appeared in a series of commercials for the Nintendo Wii Fit Plus in 2010. "Nintendo insisted they wanted Helen and no one else," a friend of Mirren's told MSN News. "They wanted an older, more attractive woman to show that the Wii isn't just for children." 

7. Snoop Dogg // Norton Antivirus

In 2010, cybersecurity company Norton Antivirus launched a hip new ad campaign called “Hack Is Wack” featuring Snoop Dogg. Snoop called on his fans to film themselves rapping about hacking, identity theft, computer viruses, and cybersecurity. All videos were available on the Hack is Wack website before Norton Antivirus took it down later that year. The winner of the contest got the chance to meet Snoop Dogg’s management team—but not the rapper himself—and the opportunity to have Snoop Dogg rap on their song. Although the contest and marketing campaign was a complete flop, about 200 videos were submitted for consideration. 

8. Mikhail Gorbachev // Pizza Hut

In 1997, Mikhail Gorbachev appeared in an internationally televised commercial for Pizza Hut. The TV spot featured the Soviet Union's former president enjoying a pizza with his then-10-year-old granddaughter Anastasia, while a dining room full of Russian Pizza Hut patrons talked about the president's legacy. The statesman agreed to appear in the spot to help fund his Gorbachev Foundation, an international research organization. 

But why Pizza Hut? Apparently Gorbachev believes in the power of pizza to bring people together. "It's an important part of life," he wrote in a statement. "It's not only consumption, it's also socializing. If I didn't see that it was beneficial for people, I wouldn't have agreed to it."  

9. Brad Pitt // Chanel No. 5

In 2012, Brad Pitt had people all over the world scratching their heads after he appeared in a strange commercial, directed by British filmmaker Joe Wright, for the women's fragrance Chanel No. 5. “No. 5 is the most iconic fragrance of our time, and Brad Pitt is the most iconic actor of our time,” Chanel CEO Maureen Chiquet explained to Vanity Fair. “Women in every culture love No 5. No matter where you are, No. 5 is there.” 

The commercial sparked a ton of Internet parodies and memes, but nothing seemed to faze Pitt, who defended the TV spot. "I've been overseas, so I've been blissfully protected [from the backlash]," he told Access Hollywood. "I haven't [seen the parodies], but I say absolutely fair play, fair play. I kind of liked it … I respect what they do. They do some really quality things."

John Lamparski/Getty Images for Hulu
The Highs and Lows of the Dell Dude
John Lamparski/Getty Images for Hulu
John Lamparski/Getty Images for Hulu

Benjamin Curtis was just 19 years old when he went to the open audition that would change his life, but he still felt like a senior citizen. He was surrounded by child actors from the ages of 12 to 17, most of them accompanied by their mothers. The group was part of a casting call for Dell, the personal computing company well-known to business and educational customers but an unproven commodity for the home market.

Dell’s ad agency, Lowe Worldwide, hoped to change that reputation by introducing the character of Steven, a sharp, tech-savvy teen who would extol the virtues of Dell’s desktop and laptop offerings in a charmingly goofy manner. Even though he was two years outside the age range, Curtis’s agent believed he had a shot.

He read. And read again. And then read a third time. By December 2000, Curtis had gotten the part and was quickly becoming known as the “Dell Dude,” a pitchman who rivaled the Maytag Man in terms of commercial popularity. But by 2003, the character would disappear, victimized by a peculiar kind of corporate hypocrisy. While the Dell Dude’s stoner wisdom was good for laughs and increased sales, Curtis being arrested for actual marijuana possession was not.

In 1984, Michael Dell was a pre-med student at the University of Texas when he began tinkering with home computing hardware. A serial entrepreneur—he once made $18,000 as a teenager collecting data to find new subscribers for the Houston Post—Dell figured that custom machines and aggressive customer support would help fill a niche in the growing PC market.

He was right. Dell racked up $1 million in sales that year and spent the next decade and a half expanding into a billion-dollar enterprise. But a lot of Dell’s business consisted of commercial accounts like schools and government offices, leaving direct-to-consumer sales largely untapped. To help introduce Dell to those users, the company hired Lowe Worldwide to create a campaign that would appeal to people who felt intimidated by the personal computing phenomenon.

Lowe conceived of a precocious kid who could rattle off Dell’s specs and lend a human face to their line of hardware. But the “Dell Dude” wasn’t fully realized until Curtis walked in the door.

Originally from Chattanooga, Tennessee, Curtis grew up interested in performing magic and drifted toward theater in an attempt to strengthen his stage presence. He went on to earn an acting scholarship to New York University and had a roommate who knew a commercial talent agent. Having been introduced to her, he began going out on casting calls. One of them was for Dell.

Embodied by Curtis, the Steven character morphed into a Jeff Spicoli-esque surfer archetype, fast-talking and charming. In his first appearance, Steven makes a videotaped appeal to his father for an $849 Dell desktop “with a free DVD upgrade” because he knows his dad “likes free stuff.” In another, he encourages a friend’s family to gift his buddy with a Dell for $799, complete with an Intel Pentium III processor.

The commercials debuted in 2000, but it wasn’t until DDB, the Chicago ad agency that took over Dell’s account, introduced a catchphrase that Steven acquired his nickname. In his fourth commercial, he announced to his friend, “Dude you’re getting a Dell!”

From that point on, Dell’s splash into residential home computing was guaranteed. Sales rose 100 percent, with Dell’s market share growing by 16.5 percent. The awareness was almost exclusively the result of Curtis’s popularity, which grew to include numerous online fan pages and calls for personal appearances. Younger viewers wrote in and wondered if he was available for dates; older viewers considered him a non-threatening presence.

By 2002, Steven had starred in more than two dozen Dell spots. In some of the later ads, he took a back seat, appearing toward the end of the ads. The cameos prompted some concern among fans that Dell would be sidelining Curtis, but company representatives denied it. In early 2003, however, the Dell Dude found himself out of a job.

“Dude, you’re getting a cell” was the headline in media accounts of Curtis’s arrest in February 2003 on suspicion of attempting to purchase marijuana. Curtis was on Manhattan’s Lower East Side and sporting a kilt he recently acquired in Scotland when an undercover officer spotted him purchasing the drug from a dealer. After being held in custody overnight, Curtis was released and the case was adjourned. If he stayed out of trouble for a year, his record would be expunged.

The New York Times compared the relative innocuousness of his arrest to that of actor Robert Mitchum, who was arrested on a marijuana-related charge in 1948. Despite living in a more conservative era, Mitchum’s career was largely unaffected. The same didn’t hold true for Curtis, however; he was promptly dropped by Dell as their spokesperson. According to Curtis, the company had a strict no-drugs policy for employees, and one strike was all it took to force his dismissal.

Feeling ostracized from commercial work and typecast by the role, Curtis juggled gigs while working at a Mexican restaurant in New York and enduring daily recognition from customers. “They’ll get really drunk, and they’ll start yelling things at me,” he told Grub Street in 2007. “I either ignore them, or if it’s way out of hand, I go up and say, ‘I appreciate your support, but my name is Ben.’ That usually doesn’t work so I smile and ignore them.”

Dell never found a mascot as well-liked as Curtis. They hired singer Sheryl Crow to appear in spots beginning in 2005, but she didn't sway consumers as much as Steven had. In 2010, the company attempted to battle back from negative press over selling defective computers to customers between 2003 and 2005. Today, they typically occupy a list of the top three PC companies, trailing Lenovo and HP.

Curtis, meanwhile, made a segue into off-Broadway performing and now operates Soul Fit NYC, a holistic wellness center in New York that offers yoga, massage, personal training, and life coaching services. Although he’s expressed interest in coming back to Dell as a spokesperson, the company may not appreciate his latest indiscretion: In 2013, he admitted to owning a MacBook.

Sarah Mahala Photography & Makeup Artistry, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0
Why Lucky the Leprechaun Was Missing From Some Lucky Charms Boxes in 1975
Sarah Mahala Photography & Makeup Artistry, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0
Sarah Mahala Photography & Makeup Artistry, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

It’s hard to picture a box of Lucky Charms without a smiling leprechaun plastered on the front of it. But cereal fans living in New England in the 1970s may remember a brief period when Lucky was nowhere to be seen. In his place was a forgetful wizard who was barely given a chance to make a blip in cereal mascot history.

As Atlas Obscura shared in a recent story, Waldo the Wizard became the face of Lucky Charms in select stores in 1975. At that point, Lucky had been representing the brand since it was introduced over a decade earlier, but General Mills was toying with going in a different direction with the marketing.

Lucky’s shtick hasn’t changed much since Lucky Charms was introduced in 1964: In commercials, the leprechaun is enjoying his treasured cereal when a group of hungry kids comes along. Instead of offering to share, Lucky plots to keep his Lucky Charms to himself and always fails. It’s not exactly controversial as far as kids' ads go, but in the mid-1970s, executives worried that the mascot's unfriendly attitude towards children would rub consumers the wrong way.

Enter Waldo: a wizard who wore a green cloak spangled with hearts, stars, clovers, and moons, and, like Lucky, adored Lucky Charms. But unlike Lucky, Waldo was always warm with kids and never hesitated to share his breakfast. Instead of running away, his gag was that he was always forgetting where he put his box of Lucky Charms, to which the kids responded by reminding him that he could just conjure some up with magic.

Shoppers responded positively to Waldo during his trial run in New England stores, but after less than a year, General Mills pulled the plug on the experiment. It turned out that having a slightly more innocuous character wasn’t worth abandoning the original mascot after spending so much time and money promoting him.

While he’s undergone a few redesigns in the past 50 years, Lucky is still prominently displayed on every box of Lucky Charms. His cereal-hoarding tendencies have also remained the same, though Lucky was written to be a bit friendlier following Waldo’s short-lived era.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]


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