Brands have always turned to the famous to help them sell their stuff. But in our current social-media fueled age of mega-celebrity, the famous have arguably become a bit more selective about what they agree to sell. There are exceptions, of course; but it’s hard to imagine contemporary boxing star Floyd Mayweather in a commercial for roach traps, as the great Muhammad Ali once did.
Here are some unexpected pairings from decades past, found by Collector’s Weekly and others:
Boris Karloff, who was actually English—his real name was William Henry Pratt—rose to fame after his turn as the monster in the 1931 film, Frankenstein. Steadily he became the master of the horror genre, and in 1947 put his reputation to use for Northern Pacific Railway.
Doris Day started her career as a singer, beginning with her 1945 hit, “Sentimental Journey.” As she moved into acting, ultimately becoming one of the most popular actresses of the 1950s and ’60s, she appeared in this promotion for an International Harvester road roller. “When Doris Day needs road rolling equipment, you can bet she’s going to turn to a name she’s known and trusted for years,” the ad says.
Humphrey Bogart was one of the coolest leading men in Hollywood history, playing steely characters who said as much with their eyes as their words, in movies including Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon. But Bogey still found time to do this ad for Whitman’s sampler of chocolates and confections, in which his apparent inability to communicate is the rationale for gifting a box of Whitman’s. “When You Can’t Find Words…Find a Sampler!”
One year after “The Flintstones” debuted in 1960, the characters were already being put to work selling. In this commercial, animated cave people, who were intended to appeal to families, including kids, are selling Winston cigarettes, which now seems like the most outdated aspect of the prehistoric cartoon.
On that note, this 1952 ad for Camel cigarettes featured Patrice Munsel, a famous opera singer. “As an opera singer, I must think of my voice and throat,” she proclaims. That would kind of be like Adele saying she only smokes healthy cigarettes.
The married pop duo of Sonny and Cher became known as much for their rocky relationship, and ultimately their 1975 divorce, as their music. That and the fact that their musical career was mostly over by 1971 made them an odd choice for this ad that year from National Bible Week, which said, “Read the Bible. Find out where all the music’s coming from.”
In 1982, Michael Jackson released “Thriller.” A couple years later, as possibly the biggest pop star in the world, he appeared alongside the cartoon character Rainbow Brite, and her “magical flying horse,” Starlite, in this ad for Vanity Fair phonographs by The Ertl Company.