Cars We Remember column: Celebrities have been selling cars for decades with no end in sight
Q: Greg I found an article you wrote a long time ago about some celebrities endorsing cars and trucks and also other television shows promoted by car companies. Can you give us an update just on celebrities as car spokespeople?
- Ellen L., Providence, Rhode Island
A: Ellen, a lot has happened since I first wrote that article eight years ago as more and more celebrities have become spokespeople for automobiles and trucks. For more fun this week, I highly recommend you access YouTube and enjoy each commercial I mention.
Currently, Matthew McConaughey and his love of Lincolns rates high right now, but who can forget Eminem’s 3-minute long “Motor City Chrysler” ad during the 2014 Super Bowl? And just last night I saw actor Paul Giamatti, he of “Cinderella Man,” “Slideways” and “Man on the Moon” pitching the Volkswagen Atlas in fine fashion.
Not every celebrity appears in person. Perhaps the best voice-over success goes to Sam Elliott for Ram trucks, “John Boy” Richard Thomas for Mercedes-Benz and “The Big Lebowski” Jeff Bridges for Hyundai. All were very successful ad campaigns. Perhaps the most remembered celebrity endorsement for an automobile was the beloved Dinah Shore, who sang “See the USA in a Chevrolet” and became an overnight advertising sensation for car promotion back in the 1950s and 1960s. Joining Shore in several commercials was guest Pat Boone in 1958 and 1959.
When we look further into celebrity endorsements, you’ll find some famous legends from hip-hop’s Snoop Dog and his famous golf outing with Chrysler’s Lee Iacocca commercial. However, the most famous of all Chrysler pitchmen has to be Ricardo Montalban and his “Corinthian Leather” Chrysler Cordoba ads in 1975. Montalban became almost as famous as a Chrysler pitchman as he was for his hit show “Fantasy Island.”
The other celebrity for Chrysler during that time period was Frank Sinatra, who appeared with Chrysler chairman and friend Lee Iacocca pitching the new Imperial from 1981-1983. That Imperial (which I always felt was a great looking car) even had its own Frank Sinatra Edition. I also remember Celine Dion doing Chrysler commercials, but just for one year. Add to this list songstress/actress Jennifer Lopez, who tried to help Fiat along with a U.S. introduction of the Fiat 500. Turns out to this day Lopez is way more popular than the Fiat.
Another Super Bowl car commercial memory sits solid in my mind is when Clint Eastwood himself did a full 2-minute, politically charged “Halftime in America” Super Bowl ad for Chrysler in 2012. Chrysler had to take government bailout money for a second time in its history, and the commercial urged consumers to buy Detroit-built Chrysler products and help bring us out of the nasty car company depression. It was a stunning and brilliant message.
More of the modern day (1990 and up) celebrities include Justin Timberlake (Audi); Toby Keith (Ford F150); Will Ferrell (Dodge Durango); Kim Cattrall (Nissan); Ed Herrmann (Chrysler); Kate Walsh (Cadillac); Jill Wagner (Mercury); Dustin Hoffman (Volkswagen) and even Bob Dylan (Cadillac) all taking their turns. So did “All My Children’s” Susan Lucci for Ford and “Bonanza” patriarch Lorne Greene for Chevrolet.
Better yet, check the 1965 Chevrolet commercial featuring all of the cast of “Bonanza” with guest appearances from Robert Vaughn from “Man from Uncle” and “Bewitched” cast Elizabeth Montgomery, Dick York and Agnes Moorehead. This one lasts over 5 minutes.
As for my first memories of celebrities, it was the 1950s when television boomed and car companies realized that in combination with newspaper and radio ads, television was the icing on the cake. “The Adventures of Superman” was a weekly early TV hit and I noted quickly that the cast relied on Nash and Nash-Healy automobiles for its stars to drive. And while Chester A. Riley from “The Life of Riley” told us to tell the Gulf gasoline dealers that “Riley sent you,” the “You Bet Your Life” show with Groucho Marx did a great job selling the Desoto and Plymouth brands for Chrysler Corporation (mostly Desoto) on his weekly game/comedy show. Joie Chitwood not only worked television commercials for Chevrolet, he was under contract to use the new Chevrolets every year in his popular “Joie Chitwood Thrill Show,” where stunt drivers would entertain millions nationwide with choreographic driving and death defying crashes.
Other celebrity spokespeople include Howie Long (Ford), Phil Mickelson (Ford), Jude Law (Lexus), Sir Jackie Stewart (Ford) and Tiger Woods (Buick). Another Mercedes-Benz “voice” was that of John Hamm from the hit TV series “Mad Men” while Robert Downey Jr. in his best Tony Stark “Iron Man” voice helped Nissan along starting in 2010. As for “Charlie’s Angels” Farah Fawcett, her 1975 Mercury Cougar ads are still some of the most popular ever produced. And the list goes on.
How many remember Wilt Chamberlain trying unsuccessfully to get into a 1966 Volkswagen Beetle back in 1966? By 1979, he was in a VW Rabbit because it had more headroom than his Rolls-Royce.
Then there is Mike Rowe from “Dirty Jobs” not only proclaiming the benefits of Ford trucks, he also went into the Ford service departments pushing tires, too. And who can forget Blake Griffin, the noted “dunker” of the Los Angels Clippers? He did a great job promoting Kia in 2011 by parking a Kia Optima under the hoop at the NBA Slam Dunk Contest. He jumped over the Kia on his way to a massive dunk and won the contest.
Sometimes, movies that featured “cars and stars” were always in fashion, especially 007 James Bond. Although Aston Martin usually comes to mind as the choice of the fearless secret agent, Daniel Craig utilized a Range Rover Sport back in 2014 to help usher in the new model.
That’s about as far as I can go this week, and thanks for your letter Ellen. I double checked each commercial on YouTube and recommend you do the same for added nostalgic enjoyment.
Greg Zyla writes weekly for More Content Now and Gannett Co. Inc. Contact him at email@example.com or at 303 Roosevelt St., Sayre, PA 18840.