Celebrity endorsements- a 250 year story

Would you like a cup of tea with a side of celebrity?

There was a guy who had a whole lot of cups and saucers and things. It was the 1760s and he was really trying to move some product. But he was missing something. Something that really let people know that what he was selling was the real deal. That certain something that made people look twice and feel as though they really ought to buy those cups and saucers, because other people who were in the know thought they were special.

But where could such a something be found? Enter the celebrity endorsement.

Wedgewood- not just fine china

Josiah Wedgewood was probably the first businessman to use celebrity endorsements as a way of trying to attach the prestige of celebrity – in this case the royal family – to the products he had for sale. It doesn’t seem to have done him any harm, and the British royal family are still playing along. Following on from Wedgewood’s genius idea, trade cards were created by sales teams to show potential customers that their favourite famous person liked the product. So shouldn’t they like it too?


Brand ambassadors

Over the years someone decided that “product endorsement” was a really boring term so the Brand Ambassador was born. Brand Ambassadors are paid promoters of a company’s goods or services. Often there is a very well thought out strategy behind celebrities and their Brand Ambassador roles. And sometimes, not so much. Read on.

Bad ambassador

So we all know the stories about the cigarette brand ambassadors, including the various Marlboro Men. Yes, a lot of them suffered from smoking-related diseases and a number died. Not such a good outcome for the tobacco companies. And how about the papal endorsement of the 19th century version of coca cola? Word has it that Pope Leo XIII personally endorsed the lovely cocaine and wine mixed beverage and even awarded it the Vatican gold medal. He must have really, really loved that drink!

Into the 20th century, as mass media made celebrities much more visible, marketing teams turned to celebrities in ever-increasing numbers.

Take for example Doris Day’s endorsement of a steam roller. While we haven’t checked all our meticulous records, we are pretty sure the claim that it is the only road roller endorsed by Doris Day might well be accurate. And how great would farming be in those heels?


Or what about Ronald Reagan appearing in Chesterfield ads and promising to send them to all his friends for Christmas? Lucky them.

But it wasn’t just the 1950s where cringe-worthy celebrity endorsements were happening. Fast forward a few years to these pieces of golden advertising. Spock plying a woman with beer to ‘brighten up those lonely nights in space’ is one thing; blind musician Stevie Wonder endorsing 80s video games is pushing things a bit too far.


Sadly the glamour days of the Brand Ambassador might well be over. With many companies paying people from all walks of life to try their goods – perhaps wear their t-shirt or visit their hotel – and then post about it on Facebook or Instagram, there needs to be a new name for the celebrity-level product affiliation. And the buzz word right now is Influencer.

Influencers are basically brand ambassadors and product promoters. And while you might be more likely to see them in designer active wear rather than on the bottom of fine china plates, the concept is still the same. Our modern day royalty are still the ones we rely on to tell us what’s hot and what’s not.

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