Vintage celebrity endorsements
Oct 2, 2019 | by Becky Oeltjenbruns
Sometimes it feels like we live in a world of subconscious product placement and even Instagram had to adjust its posting rules to adapt to this new frontier. Internet ads suggest goods and services based on our search history and marketing strategies can be updated on a whim, perfectly poised to respond to our tech-savvy consumer society. With trends such as fast fashion driving buying habits, it can be hard to get a handle on advertising in this day and age. But there was a time, in the not-so-distant past, when tastes changed at a more relaxed pace. When advertising combined glamour and innocence, reflecting a post-war utopia so many brave men and women had fought for.
Star power was also unique during this era – perhaps because the celebrity image was controlled by studio executives. These executives were proponents of popularity, rather than the saturation that defines the celebrity media landscape today. Publications like Photoplay gave the average movie-goer a chance to learn more about their favorite leading lady or gent. Cultivating a devoted fan base meant better box office results, but also opened the door to a “win-win” for those exec’s I mentioned earlier – vintage celebrity endorsements.
Think of some big names from classic Hollywood, for example: Bing Crosby, Jimmy Stewart, Katherine Hepburn, or Doris Day. If you consider their bodies of work (which were particularly prolific during these years), many things stand out. First of all, their talents shine. But also, you as a viewer felt something tangible during their performance. That feeling has shifted as cinematography developed. Films during the 1940s and 50s were made for the big-screen: epic musical numbers and detailed choreography or tense dramatic scenes that weren’t afraid to accentuate silent pauses. Everything was larger than life and in some ways performances of yesteryear were inherently more theatrical, more human than the digital realm we find ourselves in today. Those studio executives might have called this “lightening in a bottle”, but I’ll call it connection. It’s this feeling of familiarity that made celebrity product endorsements so persuasive. This connectivity has risen to new levels in recent time thanks to social media; some experts even see it as a precursor to a resurgence of personal endorsements. What could today’s rising stars learn from the legends of generations past? For starters: embrace the quirky!
In the 1950s it was all about cross-promotion (even if the connection between product and project was threadbare). Whitman’s Chocolates had a rich history of using Hollywood faces as brand ambassadors. Humphrey Bogart and even the Duke himself (John Wayne) were graduates of the Whitman’s school of free chocolate! Alfred Hitchcock pedaled the wares of Western Union and Maureen O’Hara espoused the importance of Sunshine Krispy Crackers. Each advertisement offered an opportunity to gain attention for the star’s new movie and the company was able to turn more heads in the grocery store. In these days the loose connection between the item and the film was immaterial. The star’s glow shone brightly enough to cover any flawed pitch.
Let’s take a stroll through some of the more interesting allegiances in the gallery below (both the ad and the film it’s referencing are placed side by side). As I curated these examples I couldn’t help but smile. There is a certain charm to the wacky and sometimes misguided sponsorship. Modern techniques are so polished that it can make nearly any product seem otherworldly and cool. Perhaps it’s my vintage heart, but I see hints of marvelous in these – let me know your thoughts in the comments…