Thursday, 21 February 2013

Endorsement from another era

Celebrity endorsements of products are always a risk, and the last few months have seen at least two extreme cases from the world of sport where brands have had to backpedal very rapidly.

Perhaps the boldest celebrity endorsement is one that goes beyond the sponsoring and the advertising and onto the packaging itself, with the star's name being assumed as the brand name and their picture and autograph incorporated into the pack design. Examples are few and far between: there are food products, where the celebrity has created the recipe, as in Paul Newman's dressings and sauces, or Linda McCartney's range. And, of course, perfumes, although I have often wondered who on earth would want to smell like Britney Spears.

Caruso Cough Sweets, above, are an obscure oddity, available only in certain German Apotheke stores, but that only adds to their quirky charm. It's all a modern re-interpretation, of course, of a story that did have some basis in fact (Caruso was indeed recommended some cough pastilles made to a 1877 recipe when due to go on stage in Hamburg) but it's a story you want to believe, as much as you want to believe that the packaging has been around for a century or so.

Caruso, like Houdini, is one of the few stars of the early 20th century whose name is still currency today. I feel that it's because he was one of the first stars who really was well-known around the Western world and, in today's horrible parlance, he embraced the new technology of the day. Phonograph, gramophone, telephone, film, Caruso could be described as phonogenic. And when it came to voices and keeping them clear and powerful and cough-free, his endorsement works as well today as it did one hundred years ago.

But, back to those risks. Caruso was indeed charged with an indecent act in November 1906, in New York Central Park Zoo. But before too many minds start boggling, let me assure you that this was no more than reinforcing the Italian stereotype and involved pinching a lady's bottom.

Caruso blamed a monkey.

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