Not a very good endorsement

As Vic Reeves loses a £1m-a-year deal with Churchill over drink driving, Ed Caesar remembers other stars who fell foul of their sponsors

Thursday 31 March 2005 00:00 BST

Helena Bonham Carter and Yardley

In the early 1990s, Helena Bonham Carter's classic looks and demure charm made her one of Britain's leading actors. But the iconoclastic actress always hated this description: "Demure? I'm not demure," she told an interviewer. "I drink Diet Coke, I smoke, I swear and I arm-wrestle."

Considering her reluctance to take on the role of English rose, Bonham Carter was perhaps an odd choice to become the face of the ailing cosmetics giant Yardley, which had been producing soaps, perfume and make-up for the Royal Family for more than 200 years. Even Bonham Carter seemed bemused by the £500,000 contract: "I don't know why Yardley chose me, I don't wear much make-up." Her contract was, unsurprisingly, ended soon after.

Jamie Oliver and Sainsbury's

Britain's favourite mockney chef, who broke with BBC precedent to front a £1m campaign for the supermarket giant Sainsbury's in 2000, has landed himself in the soup on a number of occasions. Within months of signing for £500,000, he admitted that he used independent suppliers for his restaurant, saying "for any chef, supermarkets are like a factory". Rather than dump Oliver, Sainsbury's reaction was to point out that the Naked Chef's ads for the supermarket showed him in "a domestic setting" so his comments did not have any impact on his contract with the supermarket. It must have been dismayed, then, when Oliver's trouble and strife, Jools, was caught shopping at the chain's rival, Waitrose, rather than at her local Sainsbury's.

None the less, Oliver's ads were said to have boosted Sainsbury's fortunes by up to £1bn in 2002, and he has continued to bring his pukka seal of approval to our television screens, signing a new £1.2m one-year contract last June. No doubt Sainsbury's really appreciated his recent comments about Turkey Twizzlers.

Vinnie Jones and Bacardi

Vinnie Jones's conversion from testosterone-fuelled footballer for Wimbledon's "Crazy Gang" to international celebrity was kicked off by his role in Guy Ritchie's 1998 Britflick Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. But Jones knew he had made it when he was signed by Bacardi in 2001 to star in a series of ads in which he featured as a fun-loving barman. His employers were forced to take a serious look at the $210,000 deal when the actor became drunk and aggressive on a flight to Tokyo in May 2003: he repeatedly slapped one passenger and claimed he could have the whole plane killed. In December that year, he was fined £1,100 by a judge and ordered to do 80 hours of community service for his airborne misdemeanours. Bacardi did not renew his contract in 2004.

Magic Johnson and everyone

Magic Johnson (full name Earvin Johnson Junior) was one of the biggest basketball stars of the late Eighties and early Nineties, with global bankability matched by few sportsmen. But his announcement in 1991 that he had been diagnosed with HIV shocked basketball, America and the world. The public's reaction was complicated, too, by the news that Johnson had contracted the virus during the course of an extramarital affair. At the time of his announcement, Johnson had lucrative endorsement deals with Converse, Spalding sports goods, Pepsi, Nestlé and KFC, worth an estimated $12m. Not one of those companies renewed contracts with Johnson at the end of his retirement season in 1992. Even his successful 1996 comeback season didn't bring back his former sponsors, and it was not until July 2003 that Johnson secured a new deal, this time with the car manufacturer Lincoln Mercury.

Madonna and Pepsi

In 1989, Madonna was not only the biggest female pop star in the world; she was one of the first women truly to cash in on the celebrity endorsement dollar, in a $5m deal with Pepsi. Trouble hit soon afterwards with the release of "Like a Prayer", complete with a video featuring sexual imagery and references to rape, racism and corruption within the Catholic Church. Conservative America was incensed, outraged Muslims turned against her and the Vatican was infuriated by the portrayal of Jesus as a black man. But it was rejection by Pepsi that most hurt the pop queen's wallet; the firm curtailed her contract, pulled a TV commercial in which the song featured, and refused to sponsor her Blond Ambition tour. It was a spectacularly short-sighted move, as Madonna has gone on to become a celebrity with serious longevity and crossover appeal. She is now contracted to Time Warner.

David Beckham and Brylcreem and Vodafone

Any other celebrity with a £4m contract to promote Brylcreem might have thought twice about shaving off the blond curtains that made him one of the most recognisable people on the planet - but not Beckham. In 2000, he chopped his locks off, and the nation wondered how Brylcreem planned to shift their goop when it was so obvious their poster boy no longer used it.

"There is nothing in his contract to say how long his hair should be or how he should look," a company spokesman said. "We have no plans to drop him as a result of his haircut." Perhaps they should have: Brylcreem sales suffered an immediate dent of up to 25 per cent as a result of Beckham's boneheaded decision.

The footballer also proved anything but a sure thing for another high-profile endorser, Vodafone. When the Rebecca Loos "sex texts" scandal broke last year, the mobile-phone company thought long and hard about re-signing the England star. But re-sign him it did, to a two-year contract worth more than £1.5m a year. Golden Balls, it seems, can do no wrong.

Kobe Bryant and everyone

The LA Lakers basketball star was hailed as "the new Michael Jordan", and he had endorsements to match. He was sponsored by McDonald's, Nike, Coca-Cola (as the face of Sprite), Spalding, Upper Deck and Ferrero (representing Nutella) in deals worth tens of millions. Bryant's stellar career was brought to earth when he was arrested on rape charges in June 2003 following an accusation by a 19-year-old Colorado woman. Bryant denied the charges, but admitted having consensual sex with her. The criminal case against him collapsed last September, and a subsequent civil case was settled this month. Bryant's image as a devoted family man was tarnished, and his contracts started drying up. McDonald's and Ferrero did not renew their deals: Coca-Cola felt obliged to continue, having signed a five-year $40m deal just days before the allegations surfaced. Bryant is thought to have lost between $4m and $6m as a result of the scandal.

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