Audrey Hepburn was brought back to life digitally for a chocolate ad this month, and not for the first time. The use of dead celebrities in ads has a long and not always illustrious history. Here are some of the highs and lows of posthumous ad appearances.
Orville Redenbacher and Orville Redenbacher
ConAgra’s creepy ad in 2007 brought back the popcorn pitchman in digital form, giving him the updated accessory of an mp3 player and using an actor to approximate his voice for a new commercial. USA Today reported that it was the first time this level of digital re-creation had been used (as opposed to using old film clips and splicing them into new ads); and it appears to be a prescursor to the kind of animated technology seen in the new Audrey Hepburn ads.
Chanel and Marilyn Monroe
In 1994, Chanel unveiled a multimillion-dollar campaign in which its spokesmodel, Carole Bouquet, morphed into Marilyn Monroe holding a bottle of the perfume. The CGI technology looks slightly clunky now, but was pricey and slick at the time.
A few months ago, Chanel once again used its connection with Ms. Monroe, releasing an online video exploring her connection to the brand. The “Inside Chanel” video included audio from a Marie Claire interview in which she explained her famous quote that she wore only Chanel no. 5 to bed each night. “So I said, ‘Chanel No5’, because it’s the truth. And yet I don’t want to say ‘nude,’” the starlet is heard to say on the grainy recording.
Dior and Grace Kelly, Marlene Dietrich and Marilyn Monroe
Another luxury fragrance brand, Dior had its live celebrity spokesmodel – Charlize Theron – keep some iconic company in CGI. In the ad, which launched in 2011 and is still being used (including during this year’s Academy Awards broadcast) Ms. Theron arrives for a fashion show in Versailles. In the hectic backstage, she shares a cheek kiss with Grace Kelly, glances at Marlene Dietrich and hands a bottle of the “J’Adore” perfume to Marilyn Monroe, who purrs the brand name.
Volkswagen and Gene Kelly
To promote its Golf GTI in 2005, Volkswagen entered into months of negotiations with Gene Kelly’s widow, Turner Movies and record label EMI to use the iconic scene from Singin’ in the Rain. In the ad, Mr. Kelly begins the scene as usual but then the breaks into some more modern dance moves along to a DJ remix of the song. The ad’s slogan was “The original, updated.”
"The idea of Gene Kelly doing this wasn't disrespectful. If he was around it's the kind of thing that he would do, he was very innovative," copywriter Martin Loraine from agency DDB London told The Guardian at the time. “…Even though he was from the 1940s he was very interested and approved of modern dance.”
In 2010, the brand did it again – using the seated dance from the same movie, with Donald O’Connor’s image as well, but placing the two dancers in the backseat of a new Jetta.
Dirt Devil and Fred Astaire
Gene Kelly wasn’t the only iconic stepper to dance after death. During the 1997 SuperBowl, Dirt Devil launched the most famous – and some would say infamous – example of using a dead celebrity. In a series of ads, Mr. Astaire was seen dancing with a vacuum cleaner, a handheld vacuum, and a vacuum broom, thanks to digital effects (which look outdated in retrospect.) It was the first time his widow, Robyn Astaire, gave the right to use his image for an advertisement.
Diet Coke and … everybody
Elton John is a hot ticket – so hot that a concert by him can attract an audience including Humphrey Bogart and James Cagney, and the collaboration of Louis Armstrong in the band. The 1991 commercial used some more rudimentary technology, including transferring old film images to that brand new medium, videotape. Those old scenes were cut into the ad using green screens and editing.
“More than any other commercial, diet Coke's new spot begs the question: How'd they do that?” an article in Entertainment Weekly said at the time.
The brand replicated that effect in 1992, with Paula Abdul seen dancing with Groucho Marx and – yes, Gene Kelly again – and watched by Cary Grant.
Alcatel and Martin Luther King Jr.
Not even the good Dr. King is exempt from being used for advertisements. In 2001, the image of King giving his famous “I Have a Dream” speech was altered to show him standing at the Washington Monument not in front of a teeming crowd but confronted with empty space. “Before you can touch, you must first connect,” the ad for French telecom company Alcatel said. The ad ruffled feathers with some including the NAACP.
Citroen and John Lennon
The car company wanted to promote its new “anti-retro” models, and so digitally manipulated footage of an old BBC interview with John Lennon, splicing it with audio from him recorded at another time criticising nostalgia for the ‘60s and ‘70s. The 2010 ad featured Mr. Lennon encouraging people to “start something new.”
There was some criticism of Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono, for licensing the right to use the late singer’s image. His son Sean took to Twitter to defend the decision.
In 2009, Lennon and the rest of the Beatles appeared in an ad for the videogame Rock Band, using archival footage from the Abbey Road album cover photo shoot. The ad used body doubles and digital effects to show the group joined at the crosswalk by a crowd of fans, and required approvals from Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Olivia Harrison, and Yoko Ono.
Ford and Steve McQueen
McQueen’s cool factor is undeniable – which is why his image has been tied, after death, to brands such as TAG Heuer, Triumph motorcycles, and Barbour bomber jackets. And in 1997, Ford unveiled a high-profile campaign using some digital mastery to toy with a classic.
The car brand borrowed scenes from McQueen’s movie Bullitt, in which the star drives a Ford Mustang, and swapped it out for its brand new Puma model. The $30-million (U.S.) campaign by Young and Rubicam turned heads – and Ford liked it so much that it used the concept again in 2004, this time in an attempt to prop up U.S. sales. In that commercial, a racetrack is built Field of Dreams –style, and McQueen emerges from the corn to tear along the road in a 2005 Mustang.
Doc Martens and Kurt Cobain
The clunky black boots have long been a mainstay of punk fashion, but in 2007 when Saatchi & Saatchi London created ads putting Doc Martens on rock stars in heaven, it caused a controversy, and earned the agency a pink slip.
The series of ads featured dead rockers Kurt Cobain, Joe Strummer, Joey Ramone, and Sid Vicious, all digitally altered to appear to be sitting on clouds in heaven. The musicians’ white angel robes, in each image, were accessorized with a pair of the boots. Beside the logo, the slogan read, “forever.” The maker of Doc Martens, AirWair Ltd., claimed in a statement that it did not authorize the ads to run in Fact Magazine in the U.K., and that it had decided to end its relationship with Saatchi. The agency claimed they were approved as “a one-off.”
Coors Light and John Wayne
Yes, even Duke has been resurrected, in this case to sell beer.
Pepsi and Michael Jackson
The soda maker may have famously set Mr. Jackson’s hair on fire during a commercial shoot in the ‘80s, but that did not stop it from resurrecting its association with the star. Last May, PepsiCo Inc. announced an agreement with his estate, and to put a silhouette of the King of Pop on its pop cans.
DRAGON: THE BRUCE LEE STORY, Jason Scott Lee, 1993
Armstrong and Bruce Lee
When agency BBDO New York wanted to show that laminate flooring could look just like hardwood, it created a print ad with a Bruce Lee lookalike, stating that “it only looks like the real thing.” The permissions needed to use Mr. Lee’s likeness were very real.