From ZaSu to Seuss – A Fun Look at Celebrity Endorsements

celebrity endorsements“The Lorax” is hitting theaters today and it, like many films and celebrities before it, has formed partnerships with popular brands who have worked the film into their promotions. HP is now telling customers they can print like the Lorax, and Mazda is proudly advertising that their CX-5 SUV has the Truffula Tree seal of approval. We’ve all grown accustomed to celebrities signing endorsement deals, particularly female celebs for beauty brands. What might surprise you, though, is the fact that this practice of celeb spokesmanship predates TV and even the talkies.

Stretching back to the glory days of silent film, brand marketing teams have looked to celebrities to help promote their products to potential consumers. How did brands reached these fans before TV, radio or even sound films? Fan magazines.

It’s very interesting to go back and flip through the likes of Photoplay, Picture-Play and other fan magazines from around the turn of the century. One year, advertisers are promoting beauty products using testimonials from unknown, unnamed women, and the next they’re using celebrity endorsements accompanied by photos. A perfect example is that of Lashneen, a product that was meant to help grow full eyebrows and eyelashes. Below is an ad for Lashneen featuring an unknown woman from 1914…

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…and then a later ad for Lashneen which, you’ll notice, is more prominent and features silent film actress Leah Baird.

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Of course, once the connection was made that a celebrity endorsement could help sell goods and services, it didn’t take long for companies to find one or several celebrities to promote their products. Maybelline featured Viola Dana and Irene Rich, Carmen Complexion Powder got endorsements from Norma Talmadge and Louise Huff and Arch Preserver Shoe featured Laura La Plante.

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But what if your company didn’t make items that a silent film star could endorse? Say, perhaps, a throat lozenge? Simple! You turned your attention to Broadway and theater stars, like Vivienne Osborne and Clay Clement.

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Even correspondence courses got in on the action, with screenwriting schools winning endorsements from the likes of Francis X. Bushman. And Southern Pacific Lines took advantage of a few good words Norma Shearer said about their Golden State Limited.

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My favorite vintage celebrity endorsement goes to ZaSu Pitts for Jergens Lotion (she’s an expert because she has “the most dramatic hands on the screen”).

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What are some of your favorite bizarre or classic celebrity endorsement ads? Share them with us on Facebook!

Want to dive deeper into the world of silent film? Keep up with my posts over on Curtains or on Chicago Nitrate.

(Ads from Photoplay, Picture Play, Motion Picture Classic, Play Pictorial courtesy of Media History Digital Library and Scholar Work Spaces)