100 Years of Ads: Best Use of Celebrity

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To celebrate the 4A's 100th anniversary, Campaign US uncovered the top 10 creative executions starring household names.

A celebrity-driven ad campaign isn't always a surefire win. Just ask Pepsi how that whole Kendall Jenner thing worked out. But when it's the right fit, a brand doesn't just become known—it becomes memorable. 

This month, Campaign US is teaming up with the 4A's to celebrate the organization's 100th anniversary. We're counting down the top 100 ads from the past century, including "Best Use of Celebrity."

To kick it off, here are the 10 best collaborations between Tinseltown and Madison Avenue.

American Express - "Do You Know Me?" by Ogilvy & Mather

In 1974, American Express kicked off its famous "Do You Know Me?" campaign. Developed by Ogilvy & Mather, the TV ads featured celebrities like Garfield creator Jim Davis and author Stephen King, whose work was more known than their faces. And the campaign was effective. After a decade of running the ads, American Express increased its customers from 6 million to 18 million cardholders.


Coca-Cola - "Mean Joe Greene" by McCann Erickson

Coca-Cola's "Mean Joe Greene" debuted during football season in 1979, but it was so popular that the marketer re-aired it during the 1980 Super Bowl. Starring the Pittsburgh Steelers defensive tackle Joe Greene, the ad melted Americans' hearts when a 9-year-old boy managed to get the menacing player to smile. 


Dirt Devil - "Fred Astaire" by Meldrum & Fewsmith

When the Royal Appliance Manufacturing Co. replaced Ginger Rogers with a Dirt Devil vacuum cleaner in its 1997 Super Bowl ad, it was met with critical acclaim. But consumers were outraged that Fred Astaire's widow agreed to use the dead celebrity's image in this way, and the spots were quietly pulled off TV. Twenty years later, we still think the critics got it right the first time.


ESPN - "This is SportsCenter" by Wieden+Kennedy

While many advertisers complain of shorter ad times, ESPN has been perfecting the 30-second-and-under spot since 1994. In its "This Is SportsCenter" campaign, developed by Wieden + Kennedy, the cable network took players like Derek Jeter and Adrian Peterson off the field and into the office—always with hilarious results.  


Foster Grant - "Who's Behind Those Foster Grants?" by Geer, Dubois New York

In 1965, Foster Grant asked who was behind its pair of shades, and inevitably, the answer was a Hollywood A-lister. The campaign, "Who's Behind Those Foster Grants?", marked a transition from radio to print and eventually, TV. Running through much of the 1970s, it featured stars like Raquel Welch, Peter Sellers and Mia Farrow. In 1999, the brand revived the campaign and enlisted Cindy Crawford to rep its famous frames.


I Can't Believe It's Not Butter - "Fabio" by McCann Erickson

In the '90s, a male model went from romance novels covers to become a pop culture icon. Unilever's "I Can't Believe It's Not Butter" spread made Fabio Lanzoni a household name when it aired a TV spot in which the celebrity broke free from plaster to taste the margarine. Since then, Fabio has repped Nationwide Insurance, Old Spice and the American Cancer Society. In 2016, Unilever revived its campaign using a toaster that printed Fabio's face on bread.


Lincoln - "Intro" by Hudson Rouge

In 2014, Lincoln was in need of a transformation from an old, stodgy brand to one that was youthful and sleek. With the help of agency Hudson Rouge, it looked to an actor who was also in the midst of a makeover. At the time, Matthew McConaughey had successfully gone from shirtless, rom-com hunk to Oscar Award-winner. In just three years, he's taken the car brand along with him on the road to success.


Nike - "AJ1-Jumpman" by Wieden+Kennedy

In 1984, Nike debuted the Michael Jordan-endorsed Air Jordan sneakers. To market the shoes, agency Wieden+Kennedy created a print ad (that many hung as a poster in their offices and on their bedroom walls) and a TV spot in which Jordan "flies" to dunk a basketball through the hoop. Eventually, the NBA banned the shoes for violating its uniform policy, but Jordan continued to wear them with Nike paying his league-imposed fines—earning free publicity all the while.


Pepsi - "New Can" by BBDOPepsi's 1992 Super Bowl ad with Cindy Crawford has stood the test of time. In 2016, the brand recreated it using emojis, and just last week, Crawford revived it for Vogue magazine. Originally produced by BBDO, the spot features the supermodel drinking a Pepsi from a gas station vending machine while two boys ogle the new soft drink can.    


Snickers - "You're Not You When You're Hungry" by BBDO

What started as a Super Bowl ad in 2010 has grown to a campaign that's appeared in more than 80 countries and lasted nearly a decade. BBDO's "You're Not You When You're Hungry" for Snickers was originally supposed to star Aretha Franklin, but the client requested Betty White, marking a comeback for both the comedian and the chocolate bar. Today, the spots have featured celebrities like Joe Pesci, Robin Williams, Roseanne Barr, and yes, Franklin.