Don’t trust those product-hawking celebrities

Maybe it’s just my commonsense farming background rearing its ugly, plainspoken head, but I am extremely skeptical when it comes to the use of celebrity to sell products. If Will Rogers were still alive, I’m sure he’d have something to say about all this. But he’s not, so I’m tagging him and taking over.

In an attempt to cash in on the nostalgia craze, marketers are building emotional time machines in hope of transporting us back to childhood – betting we will purchase souvenirs in the form of their products, as endorsed by aging celebrities. At best, I get a slight kick out of seeing my former heroes back in action. At worst, it’s a downright scary ride.

Evel Knieval was a curious choice to market scooters to seniors, as his reputation doesn't exactly scream safety!

Evel Knievel was a curious choice to market scooters to seniors, as his reputation doesn’t exactly scream safety!

How many times have I been TV channel surfing and bumped into a celebrity pitchperson I had assumed was dead, but who had resurfaced long enough to be propped up on screen, feebly enthusing over the merits of a set of “not sold in stores but only through this special TV offer” collection of vintage songs.

Often, he/she is such a death-warmed-over-looking-sight that I totally lose sight of what he/she is selling. “Kids,” I’ll yell, “You’ve got to come and see this! This guy was older than dirt when I used to watch him on my grandparents’ black and white TV set, but yet his dentures are still functioning flawlessly due to Poligrip!” They tell me to get a grip.

Sometimes, the reverse happens. We’ll be watching an old movie, such as “The Glenn Miller Story” starring Jimmy Stewart, when his on-screen wife, played by the late June Allyson, appears, and someone will comment, “Isn’t that the chick who wore those Depends adult diapers for years and ran around telling everyone about it because they’re so well-concealed that no would know, but yet, curiously, she seemed to want everyone to know?” Yup, that would be her.

Who hatched the slick idea Florence Henderson become snake oil salesman for Wesson Oil? Why, she took extreme grammatic license and ruined the cute song “Personality” by substituting the made-up word “Wessonality” in its place, while smiling, dancing and crooning the merits of fried chicken. It’s an odd something to crow about through crow’s feet! “Shortn’ Bread” catchy it wasn’t.

Lindsay Wagner, the 1970s “Bionic Woman” counterpart to Lee Major’s “Six-Million Dollar Man” became a spokesperson for Select Comfort’s Sleep Number bed three decades later. While many guys had likely already had some of their own thoughts involving Wagner and a bed, I thought a hearing aid company was the logical entity to woo her, piggybacking on her television character’s bionic ear!

And who approached Karen “Ma Ingalls” Grassle about promoting Premier Bathrooms Walk In Bath, when on the “Little House on the Prairie” television program of my youth, they bathed roughly once a week in a washtub of shared bathwater? Some sales pitch.

Perhaps the most ridiculously cast celebrity pitchman was legendary motorcycle daredevil Evel Knievel, who was tapped in his later years to endorse Legend Scooters. I have trouble picturing my grandfather, who became mobility-impaired after a suffering a stroke and a broken hip, quoting from the Legend print ad, “Evel says he chose his Pride Legend (scooter) for its outstanding performance, style, durability and value. I’d better get one. I’ve always trusted Evel’s judgment.”

Advertisers at least knew better than to mention safety as part of Knievel’s pitch. I can picture an uprising among upscale insurers refusing to help seniors pay for something endorsed by someone who is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records at the survivor of “most bones broken (433!) in a lifetime.”

Incidentally, Knievel died in Clearwater Florida in 2007, at the age of 69, from pulmonary disease, eight years after induction into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame. My mind immediately assumed it was from breathing too many fumes from the exhaust of his exhausting self-aggrandizement.

Where do I come up with my oddly amusing musings? Well, this line of thinking was triggered by my accidentally running into a Subway restaurant’s cardboard cutout of its newest pitchman, former Brazilian soccer great, Pelé.

“Who is that?” my children wanted to know. “Nelson Mandela?”

“No,” I responded, “Mandela promoted designer orthopedic shoes.”

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