Somewhere a little while back in human history, quite likely in Ancient Mesopotamia, someone figured out that sex sells. Throw images of a beautiful lady or a chiseled gentleman up on a billboard, and it hardly matters what you’re marketing.

You can stick a pretty person next to razor blades or booze or fertilizer or paint thinner, and people will think “Damn – that’s some good looking paint thinner!” Everything looks a bit more desirable when there’s someone we desire there with it.

And of course the same works for celebrity. You don’t need Perez Hilton or the cover of a Cosmo magazine to tell you that famous folks draw attention; and they draw attention both to them, and of course to whatever happens to be near them, be it a personal scandal just the same as a product they’re endorsing. For our purposes, let’s go ahead and stick with the product endorsements, shall we?

In the 20th century, as the advertising industry became a massive juggernaut involving aspects of psychology, pop culture, the arts, and so on – think everything from classic Art Nuevo posters to ABC’s Mad Men to the names of college football Bowl Games – perhaps the greatest single innovation advertisers came up with was the use of a spokesperson.

When someone endorses a product, the consumers tend to respond favorably. This is especially true if that person is a recognized celebrity. We see, for example, Kobe Bryant, and we think “Hey, I think I’ll go book a flight on Turkish Airlines!” (Damn you Turkish Airlines… well done! You got me good.)

And there is nothing like the Super Bowl when it comes to the confluence of celebrity and product endorsing, let me tell yah. Or hey, don’t take it from me – instead, let’s take a walk down memory lane, and look at some Super Bowl commercials that starred famous folks shilling for various brands!

But first, to set the stage, take a look at this ad. It ran during Super Bowl VII in 1973. Note the lack of famous actors or sexy models; note how this commercial, well, sucks:

What commercials used to be:

OK, not good, right? Who is that guy and why should I care about whatever it was he was selling. What was it? Mutations? Bah! Boring!

Now let’s see how it is done a bit better: watch this ad featuring Farah Fawcett and Joe Namath (who apparently ate a handful of happy pills before the taping started). Even though he seems out to lunch, she’s looking good, and hey, we get the point, right? USE… NOXEMA.

Farrah Fawcett Creams Joe Namath:

In the 80s, the “Mad Men,” or whoever was holding the strings for major company’s advertising efforts, really started to get things right. The biggest and brightest stars of the day were brought out to shine, and shine they did, upon a slew of products.

Let’s start with two ads from competing soft drink brands, both of which you just may have heard of, Coke and Pepsi . The names of those endorsing them? You may have heard them, too. First, why, it’s a young Demi Moore for Diet Coke!

Demi Moore:

And in the other corner, we see none other than The Material Girl herself, Madonna, no doubt getting a bit more “material” in the bank thanks to her ad for Pepsi:

Madonna:

One has to remind oneself, of course, that this was before the advent of the internet (or at least before its widespread use by the public, especially for things like viewing old commercials), so these commercials were a big, huge, amazing deal when they aired. Millions of people waited breathlessly for the biggest celebrities of the day to show up on their screens, and when show they did, the impressions they made was lasting.

Yes, the 80s and 90s were arguably the golden age of TV advertising – the production values were in place, and the pre-World Wide Web audience was held captive by the TV. You want proof of that “Golden Age” comment, you say? OK, try this out: During the 1993 Super Bowl, between the Buffalo Bills and the Dallas Cowboys, we were treated to an add with the 1-2-3 punch of Cindy Crawford, Kramer (er… Michael Richards) and Rodney Dangerfield:

Cindy Crawford, Michael Richard and Rodney Dangerfeld:

Solid gold! Cindy Crawford at the peak of her fame and beauty, Michael Richards at the zenith of being wacky (and before any incidents…), and Rodney D. doing what Rodney D. does – whatever that was, it was stellar.

Moving on…

Perhaps the best use of a celebrity who was at their zenith came from a Pepsi commercial during the 2002 game that linked her up with such other celebs as, eh… Bob Dole. It may be hard to believe now that more than a decade has passed, but this ad was goddamn huge when it came out:

Britney Spears and Bob Dole:

And let’s not forget that men can also be the fine faces of products; in this case it’s megastar Brad Pitt putting his name on the ubiquitous though not mega-good beer Heineken. Take note: the very point of this commercial is that Pitt is famous. Is that meta? Acknowledging fame in a commercial for a product meant to boost brand recognition and sales, in short, fame? You be the judge, here:

Brad Pitt:

In 2009, advertisers doubled down with a joint Ed McMahon/MC Hammer one-two punch. You tell us… do you want to use this service more, or less after the viewing? It seems to me that in order to get the most of your use of MC Hammer, you might have wanted to make a commercial with him about 15 years earlier. Oh well…

MC Hammer & Ed McMahon