A short poll will settle a question. Complete this name:
George Foreman _______
Did you answer “Grill”, or “Heavyweight Champion”? Today's media world has led most everyone to answer the first; the second is old news. In fact, the phrase George Foreman Grill is a shining example of a rather touchy form of advertising known as the “celebrity endorsement”.
The lesser format is much more common: Bill Cosby endorses pudding, but it's not “Cosby Pudding”. Colas toss aside their celebrity endorsers on a near-monthly basis it seems, far too quickly to name a drink after the star. The Foreman Grill, however, wasn't invented by Foreman. In fact, he'd never used it before he was asked to endorse it. He was chosen because he was available, he tried the product and found he really did like it, and he could sell it to customers. The connection between Foreman and cooking is quite a stretch, but it seems to have worked. Customers believe Foreman's endorsment and equate his name with the grill, even if it's not as firm a bond as Michael Jordan and Nike sneakers.
There's a power in naming a product after a celebrity. Celebrities are trusted, they're looked up to – the right ones, that is. MAD magazine is about the only place you'll see haphazard endorsements like Mary-Kate Olsen Weight Loss Program or Chistina Aguilera Girl's Clothing line. The 80s Nintendo big-seller “Mike Tyson's Punch-Out” had some weight back when Tyson was the king of the boxing world, but today the version is incomplete without a scary face tattoo and the ability to bite a chunk out of an opponent's ear.
Some celebrities might have a sandwich named after them as an honor of distinction, but it's not necessarily an endorsement – as are Jenny Lind cribs and the Baby Ruth candy bar. Some celebrities, like the aforementioned Olsens and Kathy Ireland, create companies named after themselves and lend their own celebrity endorsement to augmenting their company's sales. Others, like perfumes, don't seem to have much connection other than the celebrity's glamourous nature. Video games rely on a digitized version of Tony Hawk or Tiger Woods that would do exactly the same moves without the sport star's face on the box. Heck, John Madden's football video games are some of the most successful and he doesn't even play football in them! It'd be more entertaining if he did, but I digress. Naming “Football” “John Madden NFL Football” is the difference between being able to hire top-notch programmers to make a great game and being stuck with three programmers, one of which was your college roommate. The extra sales from having the celebrity's name on the front is enough to pay for the creation of a better game.
Such is the dillema of marketing with a celebrity endorsement: making a product good enough to live up to the customer's expectation, paying the endorser, and making sure the endorser gives the product enough of a push to keep the customers buying the product. An example are the immortal “Chuck T” All-Star sneakers from Converse, the shoe that's outlived it's endorser and developed a life all it's own. Chuck Taylor was was a professional basketball player who took a shine to the mass-produced All-Star sneaker, and was eventually hired by Converse to sell the product. Everyone of my parent's generation remembers them, the canvas sneakers now required to make any movie of the 50s and 60s seem authentic; a favorite of punk musicians and stagehands, The Chuck Taylor All-Stars were unbiquitous because the pro basketballer was so good at selling them that his name was put on the shoe....which happened first isn't as important as their synergy.
Guitars get musicians to lend their names, sports video games have athletes, perfumes have actresses, foods have chefs...now, let's say your company manufacturers swimming pools. Who would you want to endorse your product?
Today, it might be an Olympic champion, but fifty years ago, it was Esther Williams, swimming star of the silver screen, who missed on on her Olympic hopes but found a receptive movie audience willing to watch a movie centered around a swimming pool.
To see just how the Esther Williams Swimming Pool was sold, watch the 1958 "consumer presentation" shown to prospective buyers.
Williams goes into great detail about why she would not give her name to just any swimming pool -- it had to be one of high quality. One that she'd feel comfortable in allowing her children to swim in. She goes so far as to let another person explain the pool's features, in order to lend an air of impartiality.
If Esther Williams would let her kids swim in the pool (there's even a picture of them doing so!) it must be the greatest pool ever. The (I'm certain unbiased) customer statements strike the point home: your family risks certain death by not having one of these pools.
One parent feels safer, now that they have an Esther Williams swimming pool, and another claims her children don't end up in the deep end "like they do at their friend's pools." The frame of all the children sleeping on top of the pool's rubber 'safety' cover looks like a smothering in process. Safety isn't the only important part, though; the pool makes all parts of life better. A doctor claims his Esther Williams to be his fountain of youth, another cites the financial benefit of not having to take vacations anymore. One supporter doesn't know “...whether we could afford to be without it.” This filmstrip goes out of it's way to make the viewer believe the pool is the most useful, safe, and practical part of the home.
Our cynical 21st century ears can hear the professional voice-actors delivering the testimonials, and know better than to believe life-improving claims that come from the manufacturer. In fact, why wouldn't a 1950s pool manufacturer sell themselves this way?
I'm sure many did -- probably even citing the Esther Williams benefits as shortcomings their pool avoids -- and many sold pools as well. However, they didn't have Esther Williams backing their pools. She bookends the filmstrip, letting us know why and how she believes the pools were created for the betterment of humanity. How good of a job does she do? Esther Williams Swimming Pools are still around (though not by the same manufacturer that produced the filmstrip), manufacturing pools in an era where having a pool could double your homeowner's insurance premium and drownings are a daily occurrance. One statement made in the filmstrip is true today: having a pool is a sign of distinction and wealth. There's plenty of places you can buy a pool from; if the difference is the endorsement of Esther Williams, it's pretty clear what pool you're going to buy. But don't take Esther's word for it: she's impartial when it comes to endorsing the pools bearing her name. Compared to George Foreman, she's downright subtle as a celebrity spokesperson.