Some celebrity endorsements make perfect sense. For instance, if a famous basketball player were to get paid to vouch for anything, that anything should probably be basketball shoes. Even years after his third and presumably final retirement, Michael Jordan will forever be aligned with Nike. Their relationship was as symbiotic as any in the advertising industry, propelling the shoe manufacturer to the top of the market and reinforcing its chief spokesman as the most marketable athlete in the world.

SEE: When Celebrity Endorsements Don't Work

But other endorsements aren't exactly an artful marriage of pitchman and product. Jordan himself later plugged everything from long-distance phone service to underwear, as if he's somehow a definitive authority on either. Still other endorsements make even less sense. Some celebrities fail to reinforce the product's benefits, while others are about the last people on earth you'd want touting your product. Here are just a few of the questionable, ironic and inappropriate sponsorships of recent vintage.

Perhaps the most famous commercial spokesperson in history, ironic or otherwise, was Michael Jackson. Pepsi sponsored the King of Pop's 1984 tour, and in return Jackson and his brothers cut several TV commercials for the cola giant. The most infamous of those commercials, of course, never aired in its original format. It's the one that involved Jackson igniting, and which found its way into advertising lore. Jackson did appear in several other, less flammable commercials over the next few years, becoming the face of the No. 2 soda maker. But what's remarkable about this particular alliance between pitchman and product is that Michael Jackson went on record, multiple times, as admitting that he didn't particularly care for Pepsi and would never be filmed drinking it.

Pepsi knew this going in, and didn't care. The company believed, wisely, that being associated with a wildly popular and charismatic entertainer was more important than that entertainer's own opinion of its soda. For every multi-platinum recording artist who didn't drink Pepsi, there were millions of viewers who would. And that's a trade-off Pepsi gladly took.

For other products, with smaller reach than Pepsi, a more targeted approach is critical. Take Rogaine, which was and remains a technological breakthrough. As the slogan stated at the time, the medication was "the only product scientifically proven to regrow hair." But given that Rogaine's market consists almost entirely of self-conscious men uncomfortable about their appearance, it wasn't easy to find a celebrity spokesman. Parent company Johnson & Johnson needed someone who was not only confident in his masculinity, but unashamed of his desire to reverse his baldness.

Enter 6' 9", 265-pound hunter, fisherman, future first-ballot basketball Hall of Famer and all-around man's man Karl Malone. The Utah Jazz legend did a series of print ads and TV spots for Rogaine starting in 1997, not merely for Rogaine but for its extra-strength version. "The Mailman" had been losing hair throughout his professional career, and was willing to attach his face and his pate to a product that promised to reverse the process.

It didn't, and Malone didn't seem to care. By 2000, the only hair you'd find on Malone's head was his trademark mustache and perhaps a few days of beard growth.

A bald ex-spokesman for a hair restorer might be incongruous, but that's nothing compared to two car commercials that debuted during this year's Super Bowl, each featuring a driver who killed people while behind the wheel.

Honda ran a commercial promoting its CR-V, starring actor Matthew Broderick. That's the same Matthew Broderick who in 1987 allegedly drove the wrong way on an Irish country road killing a mother and daughter. If you view the long-form version of the commercial, you'll notice its star failing to signal a lane change at the :50 mark.

Whatever benchmark the Honda commercial set for dubious taste on Super Bowl Sunday, Kia tried to raise the bar later in the game. The manufacturer introduced its latest Optima model with an expensive conceptual spot loaded with celebrities – including Adriana Lima and Chuck Liddell, with musical accompaniment from Mötley Crüe.

The commercial features its driving protagonist nodding and exchanging knowing glances with singer Vince Neil, who in 1984 got behind the wheel of his De Tomaso Pantera while inebriated.

Doing 65 mph in a 25 mph zone, with a blood-alcohol level twice the legal limit, Neil crashed and killed his passenger. He also hit an oncoming car, inflicting brain damage and rendering her comatose for three weeks. Her passenger also suffered damaged brain. The Kia commercial first aired in February 2012, which is five years after Neil's second drunk-driving arrest, and a mere 18 months after yet another.

The Bottom Line
There's a lesson inherent here. If you're going to use someone famous to pitch your product, think safety first. "Inoffensive" is a positive attribute in advertising, and with good reason. Jerry Seinfeld might not be the most apt fit for Acura, nor Terry Crews for Old Spice, but it's unlikely that either company will end up regretting its choice of pitchman. Our examples on this list weren't so fortunate.

Related Articles
  1. Retirement

    Why Some Celebs Say 'No Inheritance for My Kids'

    To some of the super rich, inherited wealth is not the ultimate gift, it's a burden. Here's how their children—as well as charities—stand to benefit.
  2. Professionals

    Why Advisors Must Create a Mobile Strategy NOW

    Mobile devices will replace laptops and desktops. Financial advisors must deal with this revolution to ensure their marketing strategies are up to speed.
  3. Entrepreneurship

    Top 3 Most Successful Korean Entrepreneurs

    Discover the backgrounds of some of the most successful Korean entrepreneurs and information about the companies and projects leading to their success.
  4. Investing

    Kevin O'Leary Biography

    Kevin O'Leary is a television personality, businessman and investor from Canada. A brash public personality with a net worth of roughly $300 million, he is considered to be the Canada’s answer ...
  5. Entrepreneurship

    7 Top-Earning Child Stars

    These seven top-earning child stars earned millions through different parts of the entertainment industry, including television, film and music.
  6. Entrepreneurship

    Why Every Small Business Needs A Website

    The reality of living in the twenty-first century is that customers find business information and product offerings predominantly on websites, and small businesses without an online presence ...
  7. Stock Analysis

    Top 3 Stocks for the Coming Holiday Season

    If you want to buck the bear market trend by going long on consumer stocks, these three might be your best bets.
  8. Investing News

    This is the Fastest-Growing Consumer Complaint

    There’s no way to guarantee that your Social Security number won’t fall into the wrong hands. Here are some ways to make yourself less of a target.
  9. Entrepreneurship

    8 Top-Earning Country Singers

    These eight country singers have built careers singing about men and women who’ve done them wrong, and they’ve shared their heartache to the tune of millions of dollars.
  10. Entrepreneurship

    How Twitter Cards Can Help Drive Traffic to Your Website

    Understand what Twitter cards are and how they are used to increase website traffic. Learn about the top six ways these cards drive Web traffic.
  1. Is a financial advisor allowed to pay a referral fee?

    A financial advisor is allowed to pay a referral fee to a third party for soliciting clients. However, the Securities and ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. Is Japan an emerging market economy?

    Japan is not an emerging market economy. Emerging market economies are characterized by low per capita incomes, poor infrastructure ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. Are Social Security payments included in the US GDP calculation?

    Social Security payments are not included in the U.S. definition of the gross domestic product (GDP). Transfer Payments For ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. What economic indicators are important to consider when investing in the retail sector?

    The unemployment rate and Consumer Confidence Index (CCI) rank as two of the most important economic indicators to consider ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. How do changes in interest rates affect the spending habits in the economy?

    Changes in interest rates can have different effects on consumer spending habits depending on a number of factors, including ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. How does a long tail become profitable?

    A long tail becomes profitable because the costs to produce, market and distribute a product or service in a niche are low, ... Read Full Answer >>

You May Also Like

Hot Definitions
  1. Zero-Sum Game

    A situation in which one person’s gain is equivalent to another’s loss, so that the net change in wealth or benefit is zero. ...
  2. Capitalization Rate

    The rate of return on a real estate investment property based on the income that the property is expected to generate.
  3. Gross Profit

    A company's total revenue (equivalent to total sales) minus the cost of goods sold. Gross profit is the profit a company ...
  4. Revenue

    The amount of money that a company actually receives during a specific period, including discounts and deductions for returned ...
  5. Normal Profit

    An economic condition occurring when the difference between a firm’s total revenue and total cost is equal to zero.
  6. Operating Cost

    Expenses associated with the maintenance and administration of a business on a day-to-day basis.
Trading Center
You are using adblocking software

Want access to all of Investopedia? Add us to your “whitelist”
so you'll never miss a feature!