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5 Celebrities Who Shill For Pathetic Junk Food and Drinks

Beyoncé for Pepsi, Jennifer Aniston for Smartwater: Many celebrities shill for products that are worthless, or worse.
 
 
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This article was published in partnership with GlobalPossibilities.org.

Super Bowl season is upon us, and with that time of year comes a slew of new celebrity endorsements on our TV sets and billboards. Last year around this time AlterNet published an article about celebrities with endorsement deals for dubious products and financial services – think Hulk Hogan for Rent-a-Center and Alec Baldwin for Capital One.

This week, in a blog post for the New York TimesMark Bittman wondered why celebrities think it’s acceptable to shill soda -- “a product that may one day be ranked with cigarettes as a killer we were too slow to rein in.”

That made us think it’s time to update our year-old list with an exploration of questionable food and beverage endorsement deals. But first, let’s hear more from Bittman on why he’s so bothered by stars selling their likeness to soda companies:

Some will say that soda is food and that there’s no smoking gun as there is with tobacco. But food provides nourishment, and soda doesn’t. In fact, it packs calories that provide no satiety and directly cause weight gain, and despite the recent Journal of the American Medical Association meta-analysis questioning the link between obesity and early death, we know there is a link between obesity and diseases like diabetes.

Two things can slow down this machine: anti-tobacco-style legislation and public opinion.

There’s one group of people that excels at turning around popular opinion: celebrities. Below are several (among many) stars who we generally like, but whose endorsement deals might not be so wholesome.

1. Beyoncé for Pepsi

Bittman cites a number of celebrity soda endorsers in his Timespiece, but he mostly focuses on superstar singer Beyoncé, who is “eager, evidently, to have the Pepsi logo painted on her lips and have a limited-edition Pepsi can bearing her likeness” as part of a larger $50 million campaign pegged to the upcoming Super Bowl. Bittman points out that “unless she’s donating some or all of that money, this is an odd move for a politically aware woman who, with her husband, Jay-Z, raised money for President Obama and supported Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign, meant to encourage children to exercise.”

That is an odd paradox, and we all know that Beyoncé is too smart not to have picked up on it. And in a broader sense, given soda’s known health risks, it’s strange that soda endorsements are perceived as some of the more wholesome deals out there; everyone from Elton John to Britney Spears to Cindy Crawford has had one. Is it really just because of the money (which is clearly substantial)? Or is it possible that celebrities don’t think soda is “that bad”?

2. Jennifer Aniston for Smartwater

Smartwater may not be as unhealthy as Pepsi, but it is a pretty big waste of money and plastic bottles.

For the uninitiated, Smartwater is simply bottled water with added electrolytes that allow parent company Glacéau to jack up the price. Electrolytes are important for staying hydrated, but most people do not need them added to their water. On a more fundamental level, the bottled water industry is doing terrible things for our planet by creating an enormous amount of plastic waste.

Perhaps Jennifer Aniston felt better about endorsing a bottled water product than a brand of soda. But guess what? Glacéau is a Coca-Cola company. So even if Aniston didn’t endorse a soda product, she still endorsed a soda company.

(We do have to give it to Smartwater and Aniston for a somewhat clever recent ad poking fun at our celebrity-obsessed culture, and in particular the media’s nonstop speculation about Aniston’s love life and empty womb.)

3. Rachael Ray for Dunkin Donuts

It’s sort of hilarious -- and telling of our culture -- that the big controversy surrounding a 2008 Dunkin Donuts commercial featuring TV chef Rachel Ray centered on the “jihad scarf” she was wearing. (It was a keffiyeh.)

Actually, people should’ve been much more concerned about Ray endorsing a company that sells processed sugar-laden crap while putting local coffeehouses out of business, to boot. This is especially true since one of Ray’s big focuses is teaching home cooks how to prepare healthy meals.

Her choice of accessories could not have mattered less, but her choice of an endorsement deal shouldmatter to Rachael Ray fans, who look to her for healthy recipes. Indeed, some critics did pick up on her hypocrisy; celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain (who is admittedly no fan of Ray’s) called the deal “evil” and likened it to “peddling crack to kids.”

For her part, Ray admitted after the “keffiyeh kerfuffle” that the Dunkin Donuts endorsement wasn’t the best PR move but said “she respected the company's attempt to make donuts healthier by removing trans fats, and said she doesn't regret her decision.”

4. Venus and Serena Williams for Double Stuf Oreos

The Williams sisters are in many ways great role models for young women, especially young tennis players who don’t have too many other elite players of color to look up to. And we certainly don’t begrudge them their financial success, which for athletes almost always involves a number of product endorsements. But there is one endorsement deal that we have to question: Double Stuf Oreos? Really?

In 2009, along with football stars Peyton and Eli Manning, the Williams sisters were part of the "Oreo Double Stuf Racing League," a campaign launched by Nabisco to see which of the siblings could twist, lick and dunk their cookies the fastest, and ultimately, of course, sell more Oreos.

The Williams sisters promote all kinds of great things, from childhood athleticism to women’s rights in Nigeria. Double Stuf Oreos just isn’t one of them.

5. Padma Lakshmi (and yes, Paris Hilton) for Carl’s Jr.

By now, everyone is familiar with Paris Hilton’s ridiculously sexual ad for Carl’s Jr. No one was the least bit surprised that she would do such a thing, so for the purposes of this article, we don’t really care.

But a Carl’s Jr. commercial featuring model and Top Chefhost Padma Lakshmi flew more under the radar. The ad is less sexually explicit than Hilton’s – Lakshmi hikes up her skirt and licks her wrist provocatively, but at least she’s fully clothed. And anyway, the overt sexuality of the commercial isn’t even its biggest problem (Lakshmi is a model, after all). What’s disappointing is that Lakshmi has made a second career for herself by promoting good food, and in one of her cookbooks, low-fat food. Fast-food burgers and fries don’t quite jibe with that persona.

You also have to wonder if Lakshmi was aware that Carl’s Jr. was founded by an anti-gay and anti-abortion activist (Carl Karcher, who was ousted from the company in 1993 and died in 2008).

Lauren Kelley is the activism and gender editor at AlterNet and a freelance journalist based in New York City. Her work has appeared in Salon, Time Out New York, the L Magazine, and other publications. Follow her on Twitter.