Upon reading that Nicole Kidman was paid $12 million to star in a Baz Luhrmann-directed movie, one would naturally assume that the end product was a full-length blockbuster. However, these were the extraordinary lengths taken to complete ‘No. 5: The Film’, an advertisement for Chanel lasting all of 180 seconds.
While this commercial ran in 2004, high-profile celebrity endorsement is far from a recent phenomenon. The practice can be traced back to the nineteenth century, when Lillie Langtry’s turn as the face of Pears soap saw her become the first woman to commercially endorse a beauty product. This trend continued, and blossomed in the early-twentieth century, as seen in advertisements for Coca Cola featuring opera singer, Lillian Nordica. Incidentally, Coca Cola would go on to become synonymous with celebrity endorsements throughout the twentieth century, and the desire to attract high-profile names would define their rivalry with Pepsi.
The mid-twentieth century saw a boom in both advertising and American cinema. As a result, the film stars of the 1940s and ’50s were recruited to advertise all manners of products. Humphrey Bogart, for example, endorsed Whitman’s Chocolates in 1954 and Ronald Reagan’s fame and status in Hollywood saw him become the face and spokesman of Chesterfield cigarettes.
The rise of Vogue in the 1990s saw fashion houses become famous for a tradition of unveiling a fresh face in order to usher in a new era for their brand. This practice is highlighted in a recent campaign by Dior featuring celebrity ambassadors past and present, ranging from Marilyn Monroe and Grace Kelly, to Charlize Theron. A similar tactic has since been adopted by sportswear companies such as Nike, who specifically credit Tiger Woods for helping to launch their Nike Golf range which, according to Time Magazine, remains one of the fastest growing brands in sport.
Of course, such endorsements rely on the reputation of a celebrity, and without consumer trust in the face of a brand these particular marketing pitches become useless. Evidently, in the eyes of both companies and consumers, celebrities come to embody the products they endorse. Certainly, in regards to sport and beauty marketing the message is clear: buy a product endorsed by an athlete or a model, and become an athlete or a model. Whether or not someone can become Snoop Dogg by using a specific price comparison website, however, remains to be seen.