Being a celebrity is not necessarily a lucrative position. To make money you must either work away at your talent (difficult) or shamelessly trade on your fame to sell things to the little people (easy). Brands know how much a celebrity endorsement can be worth to them and so the money on offer can be almost too much to refuse.
Unfortunately there are cases where the celebrity should have said no. Here are ten of the worst adverts famous people have ever starred in.
See Also: 10 Bizarre Celebrity Conspiracy Theories
Bob Dylan was the voice of a generation and a lyrical genius of the 1960s’ counterculture. The future Nobel Laureate had once said he would only sell out for “ladies’ garments.” In 2004 he did exactly that for Victoria’s Secret. ‘Angels in Venice’ sees the ageing singer peering enigmatically towards lingerie models dressed just in their underwear and angel wings as his craggy voice rumbles in the background.
Left to the viewer’s imagination is exactly what is going on in the advert. Is Dylan the model’s lover, father, or Peeping Tom neighbour? We will never know. Since Dylan sold out to Victoria’s Secret he has starred in ads for cars, Apple, and Pepsi. Some fans have claimed that his featuring in these ads for American companies is really part of an art project exploring what it means to be American. The money must have been nice too.
Jessie J is an English pop star who has found international success with catchy songs like “Price Tag” and “Domino.” Sometimes though musical success is just not enough. While acting as a judge on the talent show “The Voice” in Australia Jessie J was chosen to be the brand ambassador for Cadbury’s chocolate. In a series of adverts she sits at the piano and riffs on the different varieties of chocolate on offer. The singer comes up with lines like “When I’m feeling mellow, I want the caramello.” Perhaps the peak of lyrical achievement is “Snack! A little bit of this. A little bit of that.”
Jessie J has form in this department having dressed up in a bizarrely colourful advert to dance and sing about the joys of TUC biscuits in a UK advert. She also rode around on an open-top bus in London to promote McDonalds.
How do you turn an advert into a viral hit? If advertisers knew this then they would all be unbelievably rich. So when Jennifer Aniston said in a Smartwater ad that she “Had to make a video that is also a virus,” she was hoping it was a joke that would push up the view counter. It sort of just made people sick with embarrassment – but in the end whether you go viral for the right or wrong reasons you still get the hits.
The advert sees Aniston talking to a cute lip-syncing child, cuddling puppies, and watching creepy animated babies dance. When the babies begin to do “dirty dancing” things go a little off track. She then kicks a man in the balls and dribbles fluid down her chin. Hey, times must be tough when you only have $20 million in royalties from Friends coming in every year.
Crisps, or chips to give them their American name, are big business in the United Kingdom. Flavours ranging from Salt and Vinegar to Prawn Cocktail sell in bags by the million. So when one of the big crisp brands, Walkers, wanted to make a splash with their Christmas ad campaign they turned to a singer who literally screams Christmas – Mariah Carey. Her ‘All I want for Christmas’ is a perennial festive jingle. The advert that resulted sees the star tussling with an elf to get control of the last bag of crisps.
Unfortunately Carey wins the battle and so has to eat her prize. From the way she nibbles tentatively at the edge of the crisp it seems as if Carey has never actually encountered a crisp before. Or perhaps by the 19th take she had already eaten her fill.
Many people must have dreamed of waking up to Tom Hiddleston. But in one advert designed to sell vitamin pills in the Chinese market this dream becomes a nightmare. From the point of view of a woman waking up and walking down the stairs we discover Hiddleston in the middle of our kitchen making a garishly coloured breakfast. Apparently too terrified to say anything to the intruding actor we are forced to take a seat as he explains why he is unexpectedly there. He positions pills in front of us with menacing firmness.
Before he abandons us he tells us he might not see us for a few weeks. Are locked in the house until then? Will Hiddleston ever free us from our mute internment? All we know is that he thinks we look good and we should keep taking the pills.
It is not just to the far east that celebrities go to make embarrassing adverts. Sometimes they only have to go to Britain. There was a time that only the jet-set would see an actor in a bad commercial abroad but now with the internet there is no escape from them. In the EE phone network decided it needed the star power of Kevin Bacon to spread the good news about its services, including its offer of free music from Apple Music. To get the musical aspect in they dragged in Britney Spears to appear alongside him.
In an awkward meet up Bacon is revealed to be wearing a tight red plastic jump suit as he dances to one of Spears’ more popular numbers. To get her full value from the advert a somewhat bemused looking Britney encourages him to listen to a more recent “hit.” When it comes to marketing she’s not that innocent.
Pachinko is a Japanese gaming obsession worth billions of dollars per year. Perchinko arcade machines allow users to gamble using ball bearings a bit like slot machines. Because gambling for money is illegal those who win ball bearings from Perchinko machines cannot trade them directly for money but must exchange them for a token that can be taken to another shop – that token can then be exchanged for cash.
Pachinko machines are usually bright and noisy things so who better to advertise Pachinko than the never-knowingly-subtle Nick Cage. In a series of ads for Pachinko Cage can be seen singing at a piano about a few of his favourite things such as “a cup of tea and a good book,” and “a dance with a reindeer.” Possibly he says “a dance in the rain, dear,” but frankly either interpretation or any other is not unlikely. Perhaps the most exciting advert sees a cowboy Cage facing aliens (?) in the middle of the road in a dance-off.
Chanel No. 5 is probably the most famous fragrance in the world. How better to advertise it then than to get one of the most famous actors in the world. Brad Pitt’s 2012 advert saw him shot in black and white looking somewhat shaggy while solemnly intoning… something. Is it poetry? A hostage film? A threatening message? “It’s not a journey. Every journey ends, but we go on. The world turns and we turn with it. Plans disappear, dreams take over. But wherever I go, there you are. My luck, my fate, my fortune. Chanel No5. Inevitable.” As Thanos found out, not everything that is inevitable lasts forever.
Johnny Depp’s adverts for Dior’s Sauvage were equally pretentious and annoying. In the UK the print posters for that campaign saw vandals subtly changing the name of the perfume to a more Brit-friendly ‘Sausage.’
As if to prove that not all publicity is good publicity Popchips once decided that the right way to market their products was to get Ashton Kutcher to pretend to be an Indian man – complete with brown make-up and hilarious accent. Somehow people thought that the character of Raj was an offensive stereotype in some way.
One of the keys to good advertising is to get your name in as often as possible so as to stick in viewers’ minds but luckily for Popchips Kutcher doesn’t mention them once in the ad. With mounting pressure from people who thought that idea of blackface (or perhaps brownface) was a little dated in 2012 Popchips quickly apologized and pulled the adverts featuring Raj, while the other characters in Kutcher’s repertoire remained available.
How do you solve the social issues facing a world riven by poverty, racism, and unrest? With the refreshing taste of Pepsi, of course! In 2017 the United States was experiencing a sudden focus on allegations of inequality, brutality, and murder that racial minorities were suffering at the hands of police officers. The Black Lives Matter movement was provoking debate across the nation and the world. These were complex issues that needed care to navigate. Into the fray strode Kendall Jenner.
In a Pepsi ad that sees people an orderly protest of all races coming together to show their dissent about . . . something. The ad does not make it clear. But they soon come up against a quasi-police force. Seeing the protesters Jenner abandons a photoshoot to join them and diffuses the tension between police and protesters when she offers one man in uniform a Pepsi. Apparently pleased with the flavour all of America’s social issues are solved!
Some found the ad tone deaf while others found it downright offensive that Pepsi would seek to capitalise on the serious problems facing the nation. The advert was pulled from screens but not before being widely pilloried. The daughter of Martin Luther King tweeted a picture of her father being arrested with the tag “If only Daddy would have known about the power of #Pepsi.” Indeed.