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Are you sure you buy that?


Vintage ad featuring actress Betty Gable

Endorsement ad featuring actress Betty Grable

[by Earl Blacklock] We’ve all seen them – the athlete or celebrity who, by virtue of their endorsement, can boost sales and raise profile for products and ideas. Companies line up for the opportunity to pay millions for the endorsement of a celebrity.  Remember the “I’m going to Disneyland!” campaign?

Constance Talmadge was one of the champions of the endorsement game. If you’ve never heard of Constance, it’s not surprising. She was a star of the silent film era, a beautiful woman who made some 84 films before her career ended when talkies took over. Together with Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and her equally talented sister Norma, she inaugurated the Hollywood tradition of putting her prints in cement outside Grauman’s Chinese Theatre.

Constance had an innovative manager named Emil Jensen who was instructed to heavily promote Constance’ upcoming picture “Breakfast at Sunrise”. His first thought was to take out a multi-page spread in the Saturday Evening Post magazine, but he balked at the high cost. Then he got an idea. Why not get advertisers to pay for the coverage of his client?

First, Jensen identified 400 nationally advertised products that might pay for the testimonial of the star. Then, the day before Constance was scheduled to leave for Europe, he closeted her in a hotel room and, with a procession of bellhops bearing everything from jewellery to furniture, he managed to get Constance photographed with each of those products.

Jensen fell short of his goal of having 100 companies buy in to the notion that it should be their linen or necklace or clothing Constance should endorse. Nevertheless, the number who did was still impressive. And in the October 27, 1927 issue of “Liberty” touting her movie, Constance appeared in no less than eight advertisements endorsing an alarm clock, wristwatch, cigarette lighter, teeth whitening gum, radio tubes, inner tubes, a slimming aid, and a wedding ring. (The last item was particularly apt given that she was married four times in her life.)

Unfortunately for the star, “Breakfast at Sunrise” failed, else such a “Constance bombing” campaign might have become all the rage.
We really haven’t come very far from the day when people chose their inner tubes based on the endorsement of a star who had never had to change a tire in her life. Too often we form our opinions based on the bombast of the latest passing celebrity. A former  U.S. Vice-President throws together a slide show on a subject on which he has no particular expertise, and people line up at the theatres for their chance to see it. Michael Jordan says anything about any product, and its sales go through the roof.

So how are Christians to respond to a celebrity-saturated world? How are we to resist the siren call of the famous in forming our opinions? Philippians 4:8 says “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.”

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