When a company wants to sell you something these days, it needs to do more than just show you the product. It has to create a lasting brand impression. Cute characters like geckos and tigers are great tools for selling car insurance and breakfast cereal, but sometimes brands need more of a human touch to move the sales needle. While some ad agencies are quite content to use generic actors that become emblematic of the brand they represent (Verizon’s “Can You Hear Me Now?” guy and Snapple’s “Snapple Lady” are good examples), the more reliable method is to recruit celebrities who already have a built-in fan base. The bigger the celebrity following, the bigger the reach of whatever product they’re endorsing.
The most famous endorsements create an indelible connection between brands and their spokespeople. The best celebrity endorsers can even become synonymous with multiple brands. Take Michael Jordan—it’s not hard to think about the various companies he endorsed over his legendary career (and well into retirement, too). This list of 30 famous celebrity endorsements features actors, athletes, and entertainers who have parlayed their fame into even greater paychecks by aligning themselves with everything from shampoo to life insurance.
His Airness Michael Jordan has been partnered with Nike since 1984, when the first Air Jordans rolled off assembly lines. The shoe has now 33 editions and numerous re-releases and re-designs with different colors. More importantly, Jordan’s affiliation with Nike launched his own spin-off brand, Jordan Brand, which until recently was the #2 best-selling sneaker company in America.
When Danica Patrick first emerged on the auto racing scene, she was something of a novelty—and that's exactly what appealed to the website domain brokers at GoDaddy. They teamed up with Patrick in 2006, and the relationship lasted for nearly a decade. In a nod to professional symmetry, Patrick joined forces with GoDaddy again for the final races of her career at the Daytona 500 and Indy 500 this year.
Curtis Jackson, a.k.a. 50 Cent, was picked to shill for Vitaminwater when the company saw him holding a bottle in a photo (which, ironically, was an ad for another company). In 2004, Jackson signed a deal with Vitaminwater's parent company, which landed him a minority stake in the business. That ownership percentage converted to major cash (estimates put it close to $100 million) when Coca-Cola purchased the company for $4.1 billion.
Alex Trebek spends most of his days moderating trivia hijinks over at “Jeopardy,” but he also appears in some commercial breaks shilling for Colonial Penn life insurance. Trebek has been a spokesman for the company since 1998, and has also endorsed DirecTV, Emerald Downs Racetrack, and the National Fluid Milk Processor Promotion Board.
"Modern Family" star Sofia Vergara has been a popular celebrity spokesperson for years, and Head & Shoulders sounds the perfect fit for her—she claims to have used the product for the past two decades. Her hair has been a topic of discussion of late, so it makes sense for her to work with a hair care brand.
Endorsements often work best when they fit the personality of the celebrity, and that proves true in the case of Matthew McConaughey and Lincoln Motor Company. While McConaughey began his career as a goofy hunk in films like “Dazed and Confused” and “The Wedding Planner,” his evolution into a sophisticated actor in “Dallas Buyers Club” and “True Detective” allowed him to endorse more sophisticated brands like Lincoln, which, in turn, got mocked by Saturday Night Live.
When she was just 15 years old, Brooke Shields starred an ad for Calvin Klein jeans that featured the famous line, “What gets between me and my Calvins? Nothing.” She was no stranger to controversy at that point, having starred as a child prostitute in “Pretty Baby” and a barely clothed castaway in “The Blue Lagoon.” Thirty-seven years after her original 1980 ad campaign, she starred in another Calvin Klein ad at age 52, modeling the brand’s lingerie.
Before his retirement, Peyton Manning was one of the most recognized faces in sports. As an elite quarterback in the NFL, his approachable everyman demeanor made him the highest-paid endorser in the league, with $12 million in endorsements a year. Perhaps his most best-known turn came as a spokesperson for pizza chain Papa John’s. Manning appeared in commercials for the chain, and even owned 31 Papa John’s franchises before selling them in February.
John Stamos started appearing on behalf of Dannon’s Oikos greek yogurt back in 2011, starring in two separate Super Bowl commercials for the brand before Oikos opted to go with Cam Newton instead. The endorsement was a natural match, since Stamos has proudly touted his Greek heritage since his days playing Greek rocker (and best uncle ever) Jesse Katsopolis on “Full House.”
The most sincere celebrity endorsements happen when the celebrity actually uses the product. Oprah Winfrey has openly struggled with her weight for years, so her longtime pairing with Weight Watchers feels uniquely authentic. As an added bonus, Oprah sits on the board of the corporation, and invested heavily in the company. This has made her hundreds of millions of dollars in profit.
“You got the right one, baby.” That was the chorus football fans were singing after 1991’s Super Bowl XXV, featuring Ray Charles singing the praises of Diet Pepsi with a chorus of “Uh Huh” girls. While Charles had appeared in Coca-Cola commercials in the 1960s, most pop culture aficionados associate the singer with Pepsi thanks to this ultra-popular ad campaign.
Most celebrities are happy to admit that they do endorsements because they require a small amount of work and pay handsomely. Will Ferrell, on the other hand, decided to make commercials for regional beer brand Old Milwaukee because he likes “good, crappy beer.” The series of ads aired mainly in local markets. In 2012, he starred in a Super Bowl commercial for the brand as well, but it only aired in North Platte, Nebraska.
George Foreman made a name for himself as a hard-hitting heavyweight boxer. As an entrepreneur, Foreman made even more of a name for himself with his portable, plug-in George Foreman Grill. This lightweight appliance could be found in bachelor pads and dorm rooms all over America at the height of its popularity in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Foreman made 45% of the profits from the grill’s sales before selling his stake, which led to hundreds of millions of dollars in total revenue for the former fighter.
Taylor Swift and kittens: that was the secret recipe for Diet Coke’s commercials featuring the pop star, whose partnership with the brand began in 2013. Billboard called the ads "the cutest Diet Coke commercial you're ever going to see," and the campaign coincided with Swift transforming from country music darling to full-fledged pop princess.
While many sci-fi fans still associate William Shatner with “Star Trek,” the veteran actor has become equally identified with bargain-hunting travel site Priceline, where he’s served as a pitchman since 1998. Shatner is now 87, and is still associated with the brand as it celebrates its 20th anniversary.
Hip-hop artist Drake has a favorite soda, and that soda is Sprite. At least that's what he'd like you to believe based on his commercials, which started in 2010 and portray the soft drink as the liquid muse he uses to write his raps. The partnership lasted for five years as Drake became one of the biggest names in hip-hop, and found his lyrics printed on Sprite cans in 2015.
Chris Paul not only starred in State Farm commercials, he also starred as a fictional twin brother named Cliff Paul who worked as a State Farm agent. The association between the basketball player and the insurance company began in 2012, and has spawned several other concepts. including “The Hoopers” and a recent series that makes it seem like Paul is best friends with his State Farm agent.
While P. Diddy unabashedly shills for his vodka brand Ciroc and George Clooney has made millions off his ownership of Casamigos Tequila, Jay-Z is a little more reserved when it comes to his stake in Ace of Spades champagne. He mentioned the brand back in 2006 on his song “Show Me What You Got” as an affront to offensive comments from a Cristal executive. He bought the entire Armand de Brignac “Ace of Spades” label in 2014.
Shaquille O’Neal is no stranger to endorsements. As one of the most beloved NBA players in history, O’Neal endorsed everything from Buick to Taco Bell to Radio Shack. Even in his post-playing career as an NBA analyst on TNT, he’s still raking in the dough from endorsements like pain relief medicine Icy Hot and Carnival Cruise Line.
In 2003, Justin Timberlake signed a worldwide marketing deal with McDonald's, all revolving around a song: "I’m Lovin’ It." The simple jingle became immensely popular, and it was only revealed later that the song was written specifically for the campaign, instead of the other way around. Timberlake isn’t the only star connected to “I’m Lovin’ It,” as the song was also produced by the Neptunes, and features a verse from rapper Pusha T.
Back in the early days of cell phones, each big brand fought for its customer base with a series of clever commercials. Verizon staked its future on a bespectacled man asking if people could hear him, and Sprint PCS had a mysterious man in a trench coat investigating cellular emergencies. T-Mobile opted to go the celebrity route with actress Catherine Zeta-Jones, who served as a global spokesperson from 2002 until she was dropped in 2006.
If you follow Kim Kardashian’s Instagram account, it may seem like there’s nothing she won’t endorse. Diet teas, beauty products, and gummy hair vitamins have all made it to her feed, but she was doing endorsements even before she became the pop culture staple she is today. Skechers featured Kardashian in a Super Bowl ad for their Shape-Ups line back in 2011. The company paid a lofty $40 million settlement a year later in response to a class-action lawsuit that disputed the shoe’s health claims.
There's a funny sub-genre of celebrity endorsements where the celebrity endorser provides a little self-deprecating humor. Rob Lowe’s DirecTV commercials are wonderful examples of this niche. The campaign featured Lowe and various alter-egos as they tried to convince viewers to ditch cable and upgrade to the satellite TV service. Unfortunately, the commercials were determined to be making false claims, and DirecTV parted ways with Lowe.
In the mid-1970s, gelatin company Jell-O hired 37-year-old actor and comedian Bill Cosby to be its pitchman. The relationship lasted for more than 30 years, and is one of the longest-running celebrity endorsements in history. With Cosby’s legal troubles, the brand may regret the longtime association as recent stories have suggested that Cosby’s first meal in prison will feature the brand’s pudding.
Jennifer Aniston rose to fame as a cast member of "Friends" more than 20 years ago, but she's still one of the highest-grossing actresses in the country. That's mainly because of her successful endorsement career. She’s hyped Windows 95, Diet Coke, Smartwater, and more recently, Aveeno. Her commercial success can be attributed to her wholesomeness and general likability.
Some commercials feature celebrities, and some depict unique characters, but NBA All-Star Kyrie Irving did both for Pepsi Max. In 2012, Irving starred in his first commercial as his elderly alter ego "Uncle Drew." The commercials were so successful that they spawned a movie, released in theaters last summer.
One guy was the human embodiment of a PC; the other, a Mac. Actors John Hodgman and Justin Long starred in the famous Apple commercials that positioned the Mac as young and hip versus the stodgy PC. Hodgman and Long have had successful acting and writing careers on their own, but the Mac commercials were so iconic (there were 66 of them in total), that the duo may be best-known for their roles in these thirty-second spots than anything else.
Justin Bieber has tried to shed his bubblegum pop image in a number of ways over the years, but one of the most visible was his series of Calvin Klein ads. The campaign started in 2016, and featured Bieber in his underwear showing off his tattoos. Like most things with Bieber, the backlash was strong, and earned him a parody sketch on Saturday Night Live.