A History Of Celebrity Food Endorsements From The Past 30 Years
As we all know, celebrities commonly endorse their own products: TV shows, movies, apparel lines, even bottles of overpriced fragrances that smell like rubbing alcohol. But probably my favorite strain of celebrity endorsements, simply because I take an absurd amount of pleasure in eating (particularly around the holidays), is that related to the food and beverage industry.
Sometimes these endorsements are very literal, as in the case of a commercial or billboard, but other times they take shape in more subtle ways, such as a reoccurring storyline in a television series. With the holiday eating season upon us, I thought it’d be appropriate to take a look at some of the most memorable celebrity food endorsements, as components of larger trends, from the past 30 years.
Surveying the past 30 years, it’s clear that celebrity food endorsements were once significantly campier than they are today, no longer as wrought with clichés, overacting, and corny jokes. The celebrities in these endorsements hammed up every moment of their on-camera time, as though audiences would be at a complete loss without their comically exaggerated speech and actions. Oh yes, the 80s were a magical time.
A leader in campy food endorsements was the great Bill Cosby, whose love for Jell-o will not escape our memories anytime soon. Just thinking about his commercials makes me want to run to the market and buy some pudding pops.
Right up there with Cosby was Michael Jackson, who has helped produce some of the campiest commercials of all time. But unlike Cosby, Jackson never needed a pudding sugar high to seem ridiculous: he just needed to throw on a glittery, white glove and start dancing. Here’s one of his Pepsi commercials from the 80s, in which he turned the lyrics from one of his most popular songs of all time, “Billie Jean,” into a Pepsi anthem. Well done, Michael. Well done.
And of course, the 80s gave us more than a handful of food endorsements from today’s hottest celebrities. If these celebs knew they would one day become filthy rich, they certainly would have never signed up for these commercials in the first place. Favorites include Leonardo DiCaprio for Bubble Yum and Brad Pitt for Pringles, both featured below.
The allure of making commercials for foreign countries, particularly Japan, and turning a quick profit has caused many celebrities to create a lot of embarrassing footage over the years. Although such activity, commonly termed “japandering,” probably reached a peak in the 90s, it is still thriving today, and everything is accessible through the wonderful world of Youtube. Fortunately, there exists a bottomless supply of memorable moments in japandering, a large portion of which is related to the endorsement of ridiculous foods and beverages.
Arnold Schwarzenegger is widely recognized for his portfolio of foreign commercials that have creeped their way into the mainstream purview. Although choosing The Terminator’s finest endorsement is harder than picking the hottest cast member on The Hills, the nod has to go to his work for the mysterious energy drink, “Vfuyy.” Although it’s not exactly clear what’s happening for a large majority of the commercial, you can trust that Arnold is saying some pretty eloquent and well thought out stuff. I mean, it’s The Terminator after all. If you can’t trust him, who else is there?
Of course, the Japanese food and beverage industry wouldn’t be the same were it not for the work of other high profile Hollywood actors, ranging from Ben Stiller to Madonna to Jean Claude Van Damme. Additionally, Michael J. Fox, the star of the Back to the Future movies, really took Japan by storm (or tsunami, depending on how you look at it). Check out the nuttiest of nutty commercials below, complete with a green screen of the White House and Michael J. trimming hedges into the shape of teddy bears. Apparently, the commercial was for some sort of tea-based soft drink.
And just to stress the importance of Arnold in the evolution of Japanese adverts, I’ve included this clip of him endorsing a noodles-in-a-cup product, which for an intents and purposes, is the same thing as Raman noodles. Notice his bulging eyes as he tastes the noodles for the first time: yummy!
As the years have passed, product placement has becoming increasingly engrained in our entertainment. In terms of celebrity food endorsements, this means a greater emphasis on interweaving the endorsements into pre-existing narratives: a character arc, for example, or a storyline in a TV show’s plot. While many feel these embedded endorsements are obtrusive and can dilute the entertainment itself, proponents would contend that it’s an effective way to reach consumers, and when implemented correctly, it can actually enhance the entertainment.
Seinfeld is the TV show that’s commonly sited as breaking through the product placement barrier. The show’s scripts were able to consistently weave in products like Junior Mints, Bosco, and Snapple, and what’s more, hold those products up to the scrutiny of both the show’s characters and audience. The inclusion of the products, in other words, made logical sense in the context of the show.
But food endorsements have popped up in both television and movies throughout the past thirty years, some with more success than others. In 1993’s Demolition Man, starring Sly Stallone and Wesley Snipes, it’s joyfully discovered by Sly’s character that all fast food restaurants in the future have become Taco Bells. In 1996’s Happy Gilmore, Adam’s Sandler’s title character, who happens to be an up-and-coming professional golfer, enters into a sponsorship deal with Subway. Meanwhile, pretty much every reality TV show ever created has featured extensive product placements, many of which revolve around the food the actors/contestants are consuming on set (whether it’s pointed out or not). And of course, last but not least, in Steven Spielberg’s 1982 ET, the titular ET showcases his love for Reece’s Pieces candy. Talk about a big time endorsement: ET wasn’t even from this planet and he loved Reece’s Pieces!
No conversation about celebrity food endorsements would be complete without mention of how hip-hop stars have almost universally embraced certain high end products, such as Cristal. Nowadays, it can be difficult to find a hip-hop music video where someone isn’t popping open a bottle of Cristal, if not pouring one over a scantily clad lady. But rather than feature a clip from one of those many videos, check out what paved the way for Cristal: the Wu Tang Clan’s early 90s adoption of St. Ides malt liquor! Other artists like Ice Cube, Notorious BIG, and Snoop Doggy Dogg also endorsed St. Ides in their videos.
In case you haven’t noticed, today’s actresses are wearing less clothing, language is getting racier and more controversial, and the landscape of subject matter which was previously untouchable is contracting by the day. Correspondingly, in efforts to reach consumers with the most impactful messages, advertisers have implemented new and offbeat strategies – especially for products, like foods and beverages, which are so closely associated with one’s image.
Probably the raciest celebrity endorsements have come from our country’s leading starlets, such as Paris Hilton (Carl’s Jr.), Brittney Spears (Pepsi), and Jessica Simpson (Pizza Hut). These are women who have made their living largely thanks to their smoking hot bodies, so it’s only logical that they’d use those same bodies to serve corporate brands: I’m pretty sure none of them are in the entertainment business solely for the sake of artistic integrity. Most notably of the three aforementioned starlets, Paris starred in a 2008 Carl’s Jr. commercial that was so racy it was banned from TV. Watching Paris wash a Bentley in a revealing swimsuit didn’t make me head out to Carl’s Jr., but I did get a carwash the next day. I’m still not sure what that means.
Aside from celebrity food endorsements that are just downright sexual, they’ve also become more offbeat in their humor. Take for example, the following Mr. T commercial for Snickers, in which he blatantly makes fun of a guy for his effeminate demeanor. Definitely not the same type of commercial your mother grew up on. I pity the fool who doesn’t eat Snickers.
And just in case you thought Mr. T was joking about the need for men “to get some nuts,” check out this hilarious video of him ranting about Snickers, released by the brand with Internet virality in mind.
The inclusion of Mr. T in the Snickers commercials is actually a part of a larger trend of brand’s employing throwback celebrities, stars who were brighter 10-20 years ago, as their product ambassadors. In the past several years, Mountain Dew alone has featured celebrities such as Chuck Norris, Steven Seagal, and Jackie Chan (arguably not a throwback yet) in its commercials.
Although it’s not possible to say what direction celebrities and advertisers will take next with their collaborations, it’s certain that those collaborations will continue to take place. After all, where there’s a will, there’s a way. And what’s more: there’s always a will when there’s a lot of money up for grabs.