Many companies have used celebrity endorsements to try and convince consumers that they should buy their product, and not the one produced by their competitor. This endorsement can take many forms; photographs, posed or otherwise, of famous faces using the item which is being advertised or even getting celebs to star in television adverts promoting the product and the company which makes it.
The car industry is no different. Many automotive companies have spent a fortune securing the services and support of celebrities to promote their vehicles, with varying results over the years. Some have been notoriously successful. In the UK, for example, French soccer player Thierry Henry has been advertising French Renault cars for years, with his memorable “Va-va-voom” catchphrase, but not all motoring celeb endorsements have been quite so effective with consumers.
In fact, some partnerships between famous faces and car manufacturers are so strange, that you wonder how the advertising executives ever managed to sell the idea to the client in the first place. Unfortunately, too many companies are dazzled by the idea of a celebrity endorsement to worry whether the famous face that is available is a good fit.
The list below outlines some of the more puzzling celebrity car endorsements which have hit our TV screens or the pages of our magazines over the years. Which do you think is the most bizarre?
24 Jennifer Lopez - Fiat 500c
In 2011, singer and actor Jennifer Lopez was at the height of her fame, so it’s anyone’s guess how much Italian motor manufacturer Fiat paid to secure her services to promote their 500c compact convertible in TV commercials. The Fiat 500c is a cute car, but it was a bad fit for Lopez on every level; it wasn’t luxurious enough for her Hollywood image, and was probably too luxurious for her “Jenny from the block” image which she still liked to portray! The bizarre commercial, which ended with a mass dance routine, did very little to promote the car’s features to consumers.
23 Charlie Sheen - Fiat 500 Abarth
By the time 2012 rolled around, Fiat decided to go in a very different direction from J-Lo, hiring Hollywood bad boy Charlie Sheen to promote their Fiat 500 Abarth, a sportier version of the original Fiat 500 model. The “House Arrest” TV commercials featured Sheen making the most of being confined to his home, at one point even driving a Fiat 500 Abarth through the house in question, which of course just happens to be filled with stunning women. In 2012, Sheen’s bad boy image was just the right side of acceptable, but his very public breakdowns soon led to the end of his partnership with Fiat.
22 Jude Law – Lexus
Jude Law was a great choice to promote Lexus luxury cars in the UK; his suave and sophisticated demeanor made him a great fit for the high-end vehicles. What made this celebrity endorsement bizarre was the way Lexus decided to use the actor, having him drive around London in a Lexus, performing a series of stunts suggested to him by Twitter followers who were watching the commercial” on a live feed. Law ended up gate-crashing a performance at a jazz club and pulling off a tablecloth at exclusive restaurant Zima, much to the bemusement of people who weren’t in on the unusual gag.
21 Chuck Norris – Fiat
Fiat is famous for their compact city cars, so at first glance, it seems something of a mystery as to why the Italian auto company decided to hire notorious Hollywood hard-man Chuck Norris to promote their somewhat petite vehicles. However, there is more to this particular endorsement than meets the eye, as Fiat also make a series of commercial vehicles, such as transit vans, pickup trucks, and even small commercial trucks. Still, the promotional material was made long after Norris’ heyday, suggesting that Fiat weren’t really willing to spend a great deal of money promoting their trucks and vans to consumers.
20 Lana Del Ray - Jaguar F-Type
At first glance, the pairing of glamorous singer Lana Del Ray with the classy and sophisticated Jaguar F-Type might have seemed like a match made in heaven. However, when the time came for the actual film shoot, it seemed that something had been rather lost in translation; either that or Lana was in a really foul mood. Whatever the reason, the singer ended up looking rather bored by the cars she was supposed to be promoting. Perhaps they were going for an artistic, moody feel, but for Jaguar, it just ended up looking as though their star was in a bad mood.
19 Claudia Schiffer - Opel Meriva
Another German company, Opel, decided that they were going to stay local when it came to choosing their celebrity spokesperson, recruiting supermodel Claudia Schiffer to promote the Opel Meriva in 2014. The mini MPV had been around since 2003, but Opel decided that a glamorous advertising campaign was needed to boost flagging sales. However, no-one watching the commercials would ever believe that a supermodel who wouldn’t get out of bed for less than $10,000 – so the old rumor went – would ever be seen behind the wheel or even in the back seat of a car like the Opal Meriva.
18 Will.i.am - Lexus NX
Will.i.am, rapper, music legend and former member of The Black Eyed Peas, is an icon, especially among young fans of rap and R&B music. Using him to advertise Lexus vehicles, cars which are more associated with business executives or traveling salesmen was something of an unusual choice. Will.i.am put his all into the promotional work he was asked to do, but if this was an attempt by Lexus, the luxury division of Japanese automotive giant Toyota, to appeal to a younger audience, it was a misguided effort right from the start. Young fans of Will.i.am aspired to drive supercars not saloons.
17 Justin Timberlake - Audi A1
When German car manufacturer Audi wanted to promote their new A1 model in 2010, they decided that they were going to splash the cash and go all out for a celebrity endorsement, recruiting singer and actor Justin Timberlake to star in a mini-series of television adverts, featuring the supermini car. This was the company’s attempt to get a slice of the city car market, appealing to residents of cities and towns for whom ordinary Audi cars were just too big and too expensive. The problem for Timberlake is that it’s tough to look mean and moody when you’re chasing down bad guys in a supermini car.
16 Daniel Craig - Range Rover Sport
There are was nothing particularly wrong with the Range Rover Sport campaign which used the mean and moody image of James Bond star Daniel Craig to promote its luxury SUVs. After all, Range Rover is a classic British brand, just like the classic British super spy from the movies. This particular celebrity endorsement makes the list, however, because of the missed opportunity. The Range Rover Sport is a great car, but it is not the car most associated with 007, who usually drives Aston Martins. Aston Martin really missed a trick by not signing up Daniel Craig themselves to promote their luxury vehicles.
15 Ndamukong Suh – Chrysler
Football star Ndamukong Suh was another sports hero who was signed up on a lucrative deal to promote Chrysler cars. At the time, he played for the Detroit Lions and therefore was a natural choice to front Chrysler’s infamous “Imported from Detroit” advertising campaign. Unfortunately, for Chrysler, Ndamukong Suh’s reputation wasn’t as squeaky clean as they might have liked. Not only did Suh pick up a number of fines for player safety violations on the field, as well as a couple of suspensions, but he was also involved in a car crash in 2011 and a reported hit-and-run in 2012.
14 Toby Keith - Ford F-Series
Country singer Toby Keith was actually a pretty good choice by Ford to promote their F-Series of pickup trucks. His country music image fit well with the F-Series’ core demographic; guys – and girls – who live out in the country and need a pickup truck for work, not as a status symbol. Ford even sponsored Toby Keith’s tour in 2015, following their TV advertising campaigns which had run since 2008. So why is this partnership on the list of puzzling car endorsements? Well, because of the truly cringe-worthy song which Keith penned for the commercials entitled Workin’ Man. It was all just a little too country music for some city-dwelling consumers.
13 Matthew McConaughey - Lincoln MKC
Oscar-winning actor Matthew McConaughey decided to bring the same intensity to an advert for the Lincoln MKC, a luxury crossover SUV, as he did to some of his most challenging movie roles. While it’s great that he took his gig driving a nice car through the desert seriously, it all ended up just being a little too intense for many people. Plus, McConaughey didn’t even say a word in some of the TV commercials; Lincoln probably paid a lot of money for this short and silent performance. Although at least this celebrity endorsement was genuine, as McConaughey actually drive a Lincoln before appearing in the adverts.
12 Craig Robinson and Jake Johnson - Dodge Dart
Actors Craig Robinson (The Office) and Jake Johnson (New Girl) featured in a series of actually quite amusing commercials for the Dodge Dart. The series, which was titled Don’t Touch My Dart saw Robinson trying to prevent Johnson from getting his hands on a brand new Dodge Dart; and so Johnson responded by preventing Robinson from touching some of his possessions, including a didgeridoo and a birdhouse. While the commercials were undoubtedly funny, they did nothing to explain why consumers should buy a Dart or to show off any of the car’s features. It may have got some social media traction, but did it help to sell any cars?
11 Ron Burgundy - Dodge Durango
Speaking of advertising campaigns which were a big hit on social media, Dodge followed Volkswagen’s lead in 2013 when they hired a fake celebrity to help sell their Dodge Durango mid-size SUV. Burgundy, played by Will Ferrell, was the star of the Anchorman movies, and played the commercials perfectly, just as a 1970s newsreader would have done back in the 1970s. Like the Don’t Touch My Dart campaign, however, there was little actual information in the commercial to help consumers work out if this was the car for them. In this case, however, Ron Burgundy’s endorsement did actually help to sell more models!
10 O.J. Simpson - Hertz Rent-a-Car
There was absolutely nothing puzzling about the partnership between football player O.J. Simpson promoting Hertz Rent-a-Car in 1978. At the time, Simpson was one of the best running backs in the NFL and was about to make a successful career change by moving into the acting world. He made a series of TV commercials, as well as creating promotional materials for the company to use in magazines and in their own literature, and the campaign was a big success. With hindsight, however, the company probably regrets their association with Simpson, due to his widely publicized law troubles that have happened since.
9 Tiger Woods – Buick
Rather like Will.i.am promoting Lexus cars, the decision to use golfer Tiger Woods to promote Buick cars for nine years from 1999 to 2008 – the General Motors-owned brand getting out of the business relationship with the sports star just before his image was tarnished by the reveal of extra-marital affairs! Like Lexus, Buick was best known for their luxury vehicles, aimed at men who were much older than Woods, even if they did enjoy watching him play. His image as the sport’s hip and the happening young player just wasn’t a good fit for Buick, and the adverts were never really a great success for either the car manufacturer or Woods.
8 Blake Griffin - Kia Optima
Sports stars are popular choices for companies looking to promote their products. They are instantly recognizable, and many are role models for fans across the country, making them the ideal people to front an advertising campaign. Sometimes, however, the company ends up shoehorning their famous sportsperson into a sports-themed commercial which simply doesn’t make sense. This is what happened to basketball star Blake Griffin when he was hired to promote the Kia Optima. Kia got Griffin to dunk baskets over the hood of one of their vehicles, for some reason which was never really made clear in the promotional material.
7 Celine Dion – Chrysler
One of the most lucrative celebrity endorsements of all time – at least as far as the celebrity was concerned – was the deal between singing star Celine Dion and US auto giants Chrysler. The Canadian chanteuse was paid a reported $14 million for a three-year deal to promote Chrysler cars in a campaign which did little to help sell Chrysler vehicles, but which ironically did help Celine Dion to sell albums and tickets to her Las Vegas residence! Chrysler even sponsored the singer’s Vegas show as part of the deal, which ended earlier than anticipated. A costly mistake indeed for Chrysler.
6 Kim Cattrall - Nissan Tiida
Actress Kim Cattrall is best known for playing sex kitten Samantha Jones in TV series Sex and the City, so surely an ad agency would want to use her image to sell an equally racy car. Not quite. Instead, Cattrall was signed up to advertise the Nissan Tiida, a car so unattractive that very few people can even remember it existed. It was a typical Japanese sub-compact, and poor Kim had to try and make this vehicle look as lascivious as possible during the television commercial – more of a testament to her acting skills than any of her previous work!
5 Spinal Tap - Volkswagen Jetta
Volkswagen has definitely had some creative advertising ideas over the years. Not satisfied that their 1960s ads featuring Wilt Chamberlain were strange enough, they went one better in 2006, hiring a fake celebrity to promote the Volkswagen Jetta. Nigel Tufner was the name of a character created and played by Christopher Guest, the genius behind a number of comedy mockumentaries, including This Is Spinal Tap, a fly-on-the-wall look at the life of a fictitious British rock band. In the Volkswagen commercial, Tufner played his guitar in typical Spinal Tap style while standing on the roof of a new Jetta model.
4 Ricardo Montalban - Chrysler Cordoba
When Mexican actor Ricardo Montalban made his debut in an advertisement for the Chrysler Cordoba luxury car in 1975, it was a combination that shouldn’t really have worked. Montalban was a popular actor, but his strong accent made Chrysler an easy target for comedians. What no-one saw coming was that his accent would actually become an integral part of Chrysler’s commercials for many years to come, and even became a selling point for the cars themselves. A combination which looked bad on paper, but which somehow worked when Montalban and the Chrysler Cordoba actually got together on the small screen.
3 Wayne Rooney - Ford SportKa
In 2003, Wayne Rooney burst onto the English soccer scene at the age of just 17, scoring 15 goals in the two years he spent at Everton. As part of a promotional campaign, Ford gave the young striker a SportKa in the same blue as his Everton shirt – never mind the fact that he had only just turned 17 and was therefore unlikely to have even passed his test! A SportKa might be a great car for an ordinary 17-year-old, but Rooney was on soccer player wages and could afford much more expensive cars. Not to mention that just one year later he moved to Manchester United, who famously play in red shirts…
2 Wilt Chamberlain - Volkswagen Beetle
Celebrity endorsements are nothing new. They have been around since the very earliest days of advertising, and one of the earliest examples of a celebrity advertising a car is also one of the most puzzling. Volkswagen hired the 7ft 1 in Wilt Chamberlain, a basketball player for the Philadelphia Warriors and Los Angeles Lakers among others, to advertise their small cars, including the notoriously compact Volkswagen Beetle. Of course, the joke was that someone of that height could never fit inside these cars. Some thought the adverts effective, thanks to their humor, but really they only showed the limitations of Volkswagen cars.
1 Susan Lucci - Ford Windstar
Actress Susan Lucci was a household name in the 1980s and 1990s thanks to her starring role as on daytime soap All My Children – a role she played from 1977 until 2011. In 1994, she was hired by Ford to promote the Windstar, the company’s new minivan, which featured a very futuristic design. Ford decided to make the most of the vehicle’s sci-fi appearance, by giving the advert a Star Trek theme. The only problem was that Ford didn’t have the rights to use anything from the actual Star Trek series, leaving poor Susan Lucci dressed in some terrible copycat Stare Trek uniform as she promoted the Windstar.
Sources: Motorsport, Renault, Gmauthority, Autotrader, ABCnews, Carwow