Though every year has its share of Force-wielding kids and anthropomorphized animals that become part of the national zeitgeist, many companies believe that their millions are best spent on a proven quality: Star power. It’s an age-old formula — Household name (celebrity) + household name (brand) = Winning. But what about the other way around? Do celebrity cameos in game day TV spots lead to an discernible boost in each stars’ careers? For every Betty White, there’s a Robert Goulet. We run down 10 examples of Super Bowl commercials that helped celebrities — plus a few that just didn’t work. Read on…
10. Cindy Crawford
Fashionistas were familiar with the supermodel and House of Style host in the early ’90s, but it was Crawford’s sweat-and-sex 1992 Pepsi ad that took her to the next level. She may have been introducing Pepsi’s new can, but all eyes were on this fresh-faced all-American girl that viewers were happy to drink up. Pepsi, hoping to relive the glory, even aired a Diet Pepsi reboot during the 2005 Super Bowl. It was the most viewed commercial of the year, but by that point Crawford was happily ensconced in marriage, motherhood, and chilling with famous pal George Clooney.
NEXT: Alex P. Keaton reps Pepsi
9. Michael J. Fox
Fox played Alex P. Keaton — America’s favorite Republican, second only to Ronald Reagan himself — on Family Ties from 1982-1989. Pepsi called on him for a series of ads that aired in Super Bowls from 1985-1990, capitalizing on his boyish good looks and his impish personality. Though much of his success can be attributed to being on a hit TV show, Back to the Future III still managed to rake in an impressive $23 million a full year after Ties wrapped up (only four months after Fox’s final game day ad).
NEXT: Jessica Simpson takes a piece of the pie
8. Jessica Simpson
Both Simpson sisters, Jessica and Ashlee, were at the top of their game in 2004. They both had successful MTV reality shows and power couple romances. It was Jessica who was the breakout star, though. Her combination of sex appeal and ditzy humor drove this ad for Super Bowl XXXVIII (held in her native Texas). The next year, she played Daisy Duke in Dukes of Hazzard, which grossed $30 million in its first weekend. She starred in two more Super Bowl commercials in 2006 and 2007, capitalizing on her sexiness. She managed to develop a ubiquity that made men want her and women comfortable enough to buy the shoes, cosmetics, and clothing that constitutes the bulk of her wealth these days.
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It was a beautiful marriage of two comeback kids: Detroit’s battered auto industry and Detroit native Eminem, who had suffered personal setback for most of the 2000s. Taking the evocative guitar pings of Em’s “Lose Yourself,” the ad hit a note with people in the ongoing down-and-out economic climate. Since Super Bowl XLV, it’s been viewed 14 million times on YouTube, and Eminem’s collab Bad Meets Evil had a hit in the summer of 2011 with “Lighters.”
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6. Kevin Bacon
Nearly 20 years after breaking out in Footloose, Kevin Bacon was in a career nadir. Playing formulaic roles in thrillers like Stir of Echoes and in family fare like My Dog Skip belied his eclectic, impressive career. Somewhere along the way, Bacon’s legend overtook his acting career when the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game entered the cultural lexicon. Bacon, who resisted the meme at first, fully gave himself over to the phenomenon with 2002’s Visa commercial. It was ironically his ability to send himself up that set him on a course for some of the most critically, dramatically successful films of his career, including Mystic River and The Woodsman.
NEXT: You can’t go wrong with Brad Pitt, David Fincher, and a frosty brew
5. Brad Pitt
Okay, so he didn’t exactly need the help. Pitt’s Se7en helmer David Fincher directed this 2005 Heineken spot, featuring Pitt chased down by paparazzi. It’s worth noting this ad aired a month after Pitt announced his divorce from Jennifer Aniston. Speculation about his relationship with Angelina Jolie was running rampant, and the man just needed a drink. Mr. and Mrs. Smith hit theaters four months later, making $50 million, and remains Pitt’s highest box office earner to date.
NEXT: The commercial that inspired Space Jam?
4. Michael Jordan
The Bulls’ shooting guard was already well on top of his game when Nike and McDonald’s tapped him for ads that aired in the early ’90s. Whether he was facing off against Boston Celtics’ forward Larry Bird for a Big Mac or Bugs Bunny and Marvin the Martian for his dignity, Jordan’s ads from 1991-1994 were massive for the baller’s popularity, and it’s believed that the “Hare Jordan” ad inspired the 1996 film Space Jam, which ultimately grossed $90 million. Add to that six NBA championships between 1991 and 1998. Not too shabby.
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3. Britney Spears
The pop tartlet appeared in ads for Pepsi three consecutive years from 2000 to 2002. The first was unarguably the greatest boon for her career, as her sophomore album Oops!… I Did It Again ransacked the charts 3.5 months later, selling a mammoth 1.3 million copies in its first week. To be fair, Spears did share the screen time with Beyoncé, Pink, and Enrique Iglesias in a Gladiator-theme spot the year that Gladiator took home the Best Picture Oscar. Still, Britney was the only star to return the next year (and perform for the halftime show for Super Bowl XXXV), and she more than proved she could hold down the fort alone. Her innovative pop confections helped her transition into movies (hey, Crossroads), sold her millions more albums, and got Americans talking about Bob Dole for something other than Viagra.
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2. Halle Berry
The 1999 launch of Crispy M&M’s wasn’t exactly a rousing success. The decision to make Berry the candy’s spokeswoman, however, was an unequivocal win. In the six years since Crispy M&M’s stocked store shelves, Berry leveraged a golden Globe-winning turn in Introducing Dorothy Dandridge to take on a diverse roster of roles including box office busters equaling $275 million (her highest earner was X-Men sequel X2) and Monster’s Ball, the film that made her the first African-American woman in history to win the Best Actress Oscar.
NEXT: Betty White — this needs no explanation
1. Betty White
The Hot in Cleveland star is our first, our last, our everything. She’s the most clear-cut case for the bolstering effect of a Super Bowl ad. Coming off the heels of a career-rejuvenating turn in The Proposal, White surprised sports fans by turning up in a 2010 Snickers ad. The gig not inspired a Facebook campaign that scored her a Saturday Night Live hosting gig (and an Emmy for said gig), it also actually buoyed the candy bar brand itself. After the spot aired on Jan. 31, Mars (Snickers’ parent company) stock price went up 2.5 percent, according to The Daily Beast. White has continued to ride this wave of public fervor, landing her Cleveland roll and picking up two SAG Awards in the last two years. If only we could have said the same for her commercial co-star Abe Vigoda…
NEXT: Four Super Bowl cameos that didn’t quite take…
Alda’s Atari ad aired the year as Apple tapped Ridley Scott to direct its iconic “1984” spot. Captain Benjamin Franklin Pierce didn’t stand a chance.
It seemed a natural fit that the golden pipes behind The Tonight Show would shill for Cash4Gold in 2008. Unfortunately, McMahon was beating back long-brewing financial issues. With a service like Cash4Gold, we don’t want a celebrity to endorse it a.) who might actually need to use it and b.) at all.
A well-received 2007 ad for Emerald Nuts stared Goulet spider monkey-ing around — the nuts gave him that much energy. Unfortunately, the return to the spotlight was only temporary and could energize the Tony-winning crooner’s star power. Sadly, Goulet wasn’t able to take a second shot during Super Bowl XLII. He was diagnosed with interstitial pulmonary fibrosis that September and passed away while awaiting a lung transplant the next month.
Because, really? Can anyone ever top Citizen Kane? No. Especially not when he’s wasted. The auteur had been a longtime Paul Masson shill when his Super Bowl ad aired in 1980, and he was clearly doing it for the paycheck. Not unlike The Magnificent Ambersons, this story does not have a happy ending: Welles was fired in the early ’80s for admitting on TV that he didn’t even drink the rotgut he was pimping.
What do you think, PopWatchers? Do A-list cameos in Super Bowl commercials better your impression of the star and/or brand? What has been your favorite celeb-centric game day ad?