TV’s Worst Ads: Celebrity Endorsements

“Here’s the deal, folks. You do a commercial – you’re off the artistic roll call, forever.” Bill Hicks.

Since television began, advertisers have employed famous people to endorse their brands and products; from the early days of Bob Hope flogging toothpaste on NBC in the States to Carol Vorderman using her forefinger and thumb to represent the rapid shrinking of the penises of all the men watching her low cholesterol margarine ads.

Whatever way you look at it, celebrity endorsement is crap. But let’s be generous by excusing as many of these celebs as possible. Who get’s off lightly? Well, many celebrities don’t really hold enough esteem to offend the sensibilities of us sensitive sorts. I’m not sure Bill Hicks would’ve been too upset at seeing Paddy McGuiness desperately peddling pies for Gregg’s and it’s doubtful that anyone is weeping at Jason Donovan’s involvement in hawking mini pavlovas for Iceland. If you’ve never been on the artistic roll call, you can’t really be chucked off it.

Who else can be forgiven? We can allow David Hassellhoff’s Pipex campaign and the Mr. T Snickers/Warcraft ads on the grounds that both of them are certifiably insane. Jamie Oliver is at least a chef and Sainsbury’s sells food (chefs cook food).  Similarly but more tenuously, Gordon Ramsey and Gordon’s gin share a name, though the Mother’s Ruin merchants probably wish they didn’t, judging by the plummeting sales figure being blamed on the scrotal-faced swearman. Sir Bob Geldof advertises Kleenex tissues and he’s a wanker.

Many celebrity appearances in ads are just confusing. For a few years now Morrisons have used some truly bizarre choices: Nick Hancock, Richard Hammond, Lulu, Alan Hansen, Diarmuid Gavin (nope, me neither…). With the hundreds of millions of pounds spent on advertising in Britain each year (citation almost certainly needed), are we genuinely supposed to believe that Nick Hancock pointing to a tin of John West salmon is enough to shake the few remaining coins out of our tattered, pitiful pockets? Is it ironic? I’ve never really had them down as a satirical supermarket. No-one likes the swirling, gut-wrenching hurl-a-thon perfume ads with the Hollywood A-listers that are so pretentious they could be shown with an introduction by Mark Lawson, but c’mon Morrisons… Give us a little credit.

Most supermarkets take this approach. Tesco at least have the decency to give their dodgy celebs a flimsy character to hide behind. ‘Hey, the fat one from The Full Monty who’s pretending to be married to one of them Cold Feet women reckons that croissants are half price at Tesco’s. Cool!’ Asda have previously tried to convince us to shop there by pushing shrieking idiot Sharon Osborne down their aisles. And bless Aldi, they’ve even trying it although in line with their pricing structure, they’ve only managed Fern Brittain’s husband.

The most enthusiastic of all is M&S. Working on the assumption that middle class people can only understand words spoken by someone they’ve seen on the BBC at some point, their Christmas campaign features: Twiggy, Myleene Klass, Philip Glenister with his hilarious sexism, Stephen Fry, the Absolutely Fabulous lot and John Sargeant.

But it’s the sell-outs, the turncoats, the traitors that really grate, isn’t it? Iggy Pop is a icon of rock n’roll. Anyone with even a passing fondness for him will have been heart-broken the first time that they saw him writhing around advertising Swift Bloody Cover Bloody Insurance. The same goes for John Lydon, I just hope he used some of that ‘Real British Butter’ to lube himself up before he bent over to take it from Country Life. Fans of Hendrix, of Lennon, The Doors and Nirvana should be pleased that there’s a certain mystery, an end to the legend of their heroes. You only need ask a Black Sabbath fan what it’s like to watch a hero wither and die in front of their eyes, selling themselves cheaper than a King’s Cross hooker on Boxing Day morning.

Paul Merton and Stephen Fry (again), two of the most talented, consistent and well-liked comedians this country’s seen, have for some time now, been making our lives just that little bit more Hellish by lending their voices to a big red telephone and a mouse for Direct Line Insurance (what is it about insurance companies?). Particularly disappointing is Merton’s involvement. We’ve got used to Fry exploiting his ‘everyone loves me, I’m a big ol’ clever national institution’ routine to sell anything anyone asks him to, but Merton?

Honourable mentions also go to:


  • U2. Even for the kings of selling-out those BlackBerry ads are something else.
  • Woods, Federer and Henry. Existing millions + more millions – charisma = Urgh.
  • Well, if a Premier Inn’s good enough for Lenny Henry…
  • PG Tips’ decision to associate the consumption of their product with the sight of Johnny Vegas.


It could be argued that celebrities, like average schmoes like you and I, need to get paid.  in some cases, like Iggy’s, maybe there isn’t a massive revenue stream coming their way. The man has been unable to afford a t-shirt for over forty years. But it could also be argued that they should just shut up and not try and flog us stuff, okay? How’s THAT for a conclusion?

 TV’s Worst Ads: Sponsored by Anusol


  • BBC One
  • BBC Two
  • BBC Three
  • ITV1
  • ITV2
  • 4
  • E4
  • Film4
  • More4
  • Five
  • Fiver
  • Sky1