Culture

The 5 Most Offensive Celebrity Endorsements

Celebrities really should have turned down these endorsements, for our sake and theirs.

It is now officially Super Bowl season, which means that it is also officially Super Bowl commercial season -- a time when celebrities have been known to endorse any number of questionable companies, products and services. (The ads generate so much buzz we've even started to see teasers for the commercials themselves.)

But, of course, celebrities get paid to shill products year-round. Often those endorsements are cringe-worthy, and sometimes they're downright offensive, featuring products and services that are bad for society. Let's take a look at some of those -- the endorsements from the past few years that celebrities really should have turned down, for our sake and theirs.

1. Suze Orman for MasterCard

Financial advice mogul Suze Orman has become the latest celebrity to jump on the prepaid debit card bandwagon. That puts her in the company of stars like Usher, Hilary Duff, Russell Simmons, the stars of Twilight, and the Kardashian sisters (whose Kardashian Kard was so fee-laden and anti-consumer that Business Insider dubbed it the worst card ever).

The problem with prepaid cards -- especially those that feature celebrity names and/or faces -- is that they lure in consumers who may not be financially stable or inclined to read fine print (e.g., teenagers), and then they hit users with massive fees.

Shouldn't Suze Orman, a personal finance guru, know better? Turns out: yes and no. According to ConsumerAffairs.com, Orman's card has lower fees than Green Dot or American Express prepaid cards. "However, there's a fee floor, so to speak, which means this card will always cost you something," said Odysseas Papadimitriou, the founder and CEO of Card Hub, which evaluates credit card deals.

For now, one thing is certain: Suze Orman's fans are not happy about the endorsement. ConsumerAffairs.com says that Orman's "positive net sentiment rating," as judged by comments on social media, went from around 80 percent before the prepaid card deal to nearly zero afterward. Ouch.

2. Hulk Hogan for Rent-A-Center

Hulk Hogan may no longer be at the peak of his stardom, but it's safe to say that many Gen Xers and Yers still hold him in high esteem. That's why it's so disappointing to see Hogan, along with former Cowboys star Troy Aikman, shilling for Rent-A-Center -- a company that makes money off of low-income people who can't afford to purchase household items outright.

Rent-A-Center and other rent-to-own companies are a huge rip-off for consumers. "They prey upon the financially illiterate in certain communities," New York's Rev. Taharka Robinson told the Daily News in 2009. And once those customers are in the store, they're pressured to "rent" furniture and electronics at a high weekly rate.

Time magazine noted that in one of Hogan's Rent-A-Center ads, "he enthusiastically touts a 52-inch TV for around $40 a week -- or roughly $160 a month -- for a two-year contract. This works out to more than twice what a comparable product would cost if you purchased it at a big-box electronics retailer."

3. Alec Baldwin for Capital One

Capital One's latest ad campaign features actor Alec Baldwin doing a riff on his 30 Rock persona Jack Donaghy. (Jimmy Fallon also appears in recent ads.)

That might be unremarkable, except for the fact that Baldwin identifies as a progressive guy. Should progressives really be helping to push credit cards and other financial products at major banks? Probably not!

Even worse, Baldwin swung through Occupy Wall Street back in October to show his support. Naturally, many of the occupiers weren't too thrilled to have the support of someone who sold out to the nation's eighth-largest bank, which received $3.5 billion in the 2008 Wall Street bailout. As one occupier tweeted, "Hearing @alecbaldwin is at @occupywallstnyc discussing influence of corporate $$$. He's an expert in this field, as a shill for Capitol One." [via]

Amid criticism over his appearance, Baldwin tweeted, "I donated all of my fee from Capital One 2 arts charities. They have been gr8 partners in my support of the arts." That's nice, certainly. But is it enough?

4. Pharrell Williams for Qream

Rapper and producer Pharrell Williams (of N.E.R.D., among many other ventures) recently branched out into the world of liquor with the launch of Qream With a Q, one of the most vile-sounding beverages to hit the market in recent memory.

The offensive part is that Qream is marketed to women -- and in Pharrell Williams' world, what ladies want to drink is "a lightly decadent mélange of sweet berries" with an "aroma [that] opens up like melted strawberry ice cream on a hot summer day." Vomit.

Women are also encouraged to bake with Qream (because if there's anything ladies love more than drinking fruity crap, it's baking?); the Qream Web site offers recipes for horrifyingly named treats like Peach Qobbler, Qream Puffs and Cocoa Strawberry Hugs. In fairness, some brave taste-testers have deemed Qream-infused desserts to be not so awful (though not exactly good). Still, I say no thanks.

5. Snoop Dogg, Khloe Kardashian, Lindsay Lohan, and Others for Various Companies on Twitter 

The latest trend in celebrity endorsements is the sponsored tweet. Indeed, companies have reportedly started paying stars up to $10,000 (and possibly more) to tweet out advertisements to their devoted Twitter followers.

Khloe Kardashian recently shilled for Old Navy on her Twitter feed. "Want to know how Old Navy makes your butt look scary good? Ask a Kardashian," she (or, more likely, an Old Navy PR person) wrote. Meanwhile, Snoop Dogg tweeted an ad for the Toyota Sienna minivan; musician Ray J plugged the movie Saw 3D; Tori Spelling promoted a rental car company; Lindsay Lohan tweeted about CampusLIVE; and Charlie Sheen sent out a tweet for Internships.com.

According to CBS News, the Federal Trade Commission "suggests endorsers end their tweets with the (hash) symbol, called a hash tag, and the letters 'ad' or 'spon,' short for 'sponsored by,' to clarify that they're ads."

Whether celebrities ever follow those rules is another matter.

Lauren Kelley is an associate editor at AlterNet and a freelance writer and editor who has contributed to Change.org, The L Magazine and Time Out New York. She lives in Brooklyn. Follow her on Twitter here.
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