7 celebrity ads that backfired
Celebrity endorsements are one of the go-to approaches for effective advertising, especially in the social media age.
With thousands or even millions of calculable followers, the image of a celebrity can reach farther and speak louder than the typical product alone.
But what happens when a celebrity's image tarnishes a company's ad campaign? From minute to catastrophic, here are a few celebrity ads that have backfired.
Howard Stern for Snapple
Howard Stern always spoke highly of Snapple on his nationally syndicated radio talk show… when they paid him. After the Quaker Oats company bought Snapple in 1994, they made the mistake of severing all ties with the radio personality in favor of a more wholesome image.
In tune with his trademark brash style, Stern proudly held a grudge for several months over the company by encouraging listeners to avoid Snapple, or “Crapple,” as he’d call it.
John Deighton at The Harvard Business Review considered cutting out Howard Stern just one of the many calamitous decisions that led to Snapple’s rapid decline under Quaker’s ownership, before being sold in 1997 to Triarc, now The Wendy’s Company. After just three years of getting Snapple back on the right track, Triarc flipped the brand over to Cadbury for over $1 billion in profit.
Michelle Kwan for Coca-Cola
The decorated figure skater was criticized for her conflicting roles as a member of a federal health committee and as an ambassador for Coca-Cola (Coca-Cola)
When Michelle Kwan was chosen as Coca-Cola's "Active Living Ambassador," fans were left confused. The Olympic figure skater's athletic image did not match a soda company.
Just three years before landing her ad campaign with Coca-Cola, Kwan was selected to the prestigious President's Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition, which “engages, educates, and empowers all Americans to adopt a healthy lifestyle that includes regular physical activity and good nutrition,” according to the Department of Health and Human Services website.
However, that decision was questioned when Kwan was chosen by Coca-Cola. As the Center for Science in the Public Interest put it, Kwan’s dual role “cannot be reconciled” because of the Council’s and Coca-Cola’s completely opposite messages — avoid sugary drinks and drink Coca-Cola (arguably the world’s most famous sugary drink) respectively.
Others came out to defend Kwan saying it’s possible to lead a healthy lifestyle while enjoying a sugary drink every once in a while.
Scarlett Johansson for SodaStream
SodaStream is an appliance used to carbonate ordinary water into soda water with the option to add flavored syrups as a substitute to commercial soft drinks.
Although the device is hailed for its potential to save plastic and money, it’s gotten more press for its primary manufacturing plant situated in the West Bank region of the Middle East. As a result, fans called out ScarJo after she endorsed the product in a 30-second spot for Super Bowl XLVIII.
International NGO Oxfam, for which she was an international ambassador for at the time, said that her support of an Israeli company operating in the West Bank was incompatible with her coinciding role with the humanitarian charity because they contribute to the “denial of rights of the Palestinian communities that we work to support.”
The story finally ends when Johansson, who is Jewish, stood by her decision and turned her back on Oxfam, citing a “fundamental difference of opinion.”
Dakota Fanning for Marc Jacobs
This ad of 17-year-old Fanning was banned in the UK because it "could be seen to sexualize a child." (Marc Jacobs)
After receiving a Screen Actors Guild nomination at just 8-years-old for her 2001 role in "I Am Sam," it was clear Fanning wasn’t too young to get started in acting. A decade later, she suddenly became too young… for modeling, that is.
The UK Ad Standards Authority banned a 2011 Marc Jacobs’ Oh, Lola! perfume ad featuring a 17-year-old Fanning in a provocative position.
As the ASA described it, “the length of her dress, her leg and position of the perfume bottle drew attention to her sexuality… we considered the ad could be seen to sexualize a child.” Fanning was surprised the ad was pulled.
“If you want to read something into a perfume bottle, then I guess you can. But it's also like, ‘Why are you making it about that, you creep?’ I love Marc and trust him, and we just laughed about it,” Fanning said in a 2013 interview with Glamour.
Ashton Kutcher for Popchips
After ending his high-profile marriage with Demi Moore in 2013, Kutcher’s role as multiple different bachelors seeking love for a Popchips ad campaign was too good of an idea to pass up.
Kutcher exhibited his versatility between a pot-smoking hippie, a Karl Lagerfeld-esque fashion diva named Darl, and even a spiritual biker named Swordfish.
It all fell apart, however, in Kutcher’s role as a Bollywood film producer named Raj, for which he had to employ a stereotypical Indian accent and darkened skin.
The ad lived on even after viewers called it out as racist, but Popchips pulled the scenes with Raj. A spokeswoman for Popchips said at the time that the dating parody was “created to provoke a few laughs and was never intended to stereotype or offend anyone,” and hoped “people can enjoy this in the spirit it was intended.”
Mr. T for Snickers
The retired professional wrestler was called homophobic after a 2008 Snickers ad aired in which he yelled, “You’re a disgrace to the man race. It’s time to run like a real man” at a man speed walking in tight yellow shorts.
The man was then forced into running as Mr. T fired a barrage of Snickers bars with a gun from the bed of a combat-style pickup truck in a scene that looks straight out the “A-Team.”
While the ad was never shown outside of the U.K., the Human Rights Campaign, an American advocacy group, complained that the commercial promoted violence against LGBT people by showing it “is not only acceptable, but humorous.”
In response to those claims, Mr. T told Fox News, “I am not homophobic. I would never do a commercial if I thought it was offensive to anyone.”
Although reception was mixed among the U.K. community, according to The Guardian, the ad was pulled from the air. Should we pity the fool?
Kendall Jenner for Pepsi
Twenty-two-year-old Kendall Jenner was slammed for her feature in the notorious Pepsi ad which many said was a farce of the Black Lives Matter movement.
The ad, called “Live for Now,” shows a peace protest happening on the street in front of Jenner’s ongoing photo shoot. After watching the demonstration stir up, Jenner joins in to the delight of the protesters. Jenner then walks through the crowd, picks up a can of Pepsi and hands it to one of the riot control police officers.
Now for the part that threw everyone off: the officer cracks open the can in suspenseful silence, takes a sip, nods in approval and then, finally, the crowd goes absolutely mad with joy.
Pepsi initially defended themselves in light of a comprehensive social media campaign against the ad. "This is a global ad that reflects people from different walks of life coming together in a spirit of harmony, and we think that's an important message to convey," read the initial statement from Pepsi.
Pepsi conceded the next day by deleting the ad from their YouTube channel, admitting they “missed the mark,” and to Kendall for making her the image of an ad gone terribly wrong. Luckily for Pepsi, the ad didn’t really hurt their image. As for Jenner, she was still the highest-paid model that year, according to Forbes.