Top 10 Worst Spokesperson Disasters Of All Time (Aside From Jared Fogle)

Like Sub­way, these brands endured a rep­u­ta­tion night­mare due to a celebri­ty spokesper­son.

Lisa Lacy By Lisa Lacy. Join the discussion » 1 comment

As Sub­way reels from what is per­haps the great­est spokesper­son implo­sion of all time, Momen­tol­ogy asked brand­ing experts for their top picks for run­ners-up. The fol­low­ing list reveals not only the breadth of celebri­ties who have lost lucra­tive endorse­ment deals, but scan­dals (and sub­se­quent recov­er­ies in many cas­es) that also illus­trate time real­ly can heal all wounds – except per­haps when it comes to mur­der, mul­ti­ple sex­u­al assault alle­ga­tions, and/or dop­ing. In time, it’s pos­si­ble that the rep­u­ta­tions of even the high­est-rank­ing spokesper­sons on our list could recov­er as well. And the good news for Sub­way is that per­haps one of the oth­er biggest take­aways here is it is like­ly dif­fi­cult for any one spokesper­son to do per­ma­nent long-term dam­age to a giv­en brand.

Our list of the 10 worst spokesper­son dis­as­ters of all time fol­lows.

10. Gilbert Gottfried

Gilbert Gottfried Aflac credit to CNN

Image Cred­it: CNN

Brand(s): Aflac

Year: 2011

What Went Wrong: The long­time voice of Aflac’s spokes­duck was for­ev­er silenced after a series of tweets from Got­tfried made light of the 2011 earth­quake and tsuna­mi in Japan, where Aflac report­ed­ly derived three-quar­ters of its busi­ness. The brand sub­se­quent­ly put out a nation­wide cast­ing call, even­tu­al­ly select­ing Hugo, Minnesota’s Dan McK­eague as the Duck’s new voice.

Com­ment: “Gilbert’s recent com­ments about the cri­sis in Japan were lack­ing in humor and cer­tain­ly do not rep­re­sent the thoughts and feel­ings of any­one at Aflac,” said Aflac Senior Vice Pres­i­dent and Chief Mar­ket­ing Offi­cer Michael Zuna in a press release at the time. “Aflac Japan – and, by exten­sion, Japan itself – is part of the Aflac fam­i­ly, and there is no place for any­thing but com­pas­sion and con­cern dur­ing these dif­fi­cult times.”

9. Ben Curtis (The “Dude, You’re Getting a Dell” Guy)

Dell Dude

Brand(s): Dell

Year: 2003

What Went Wrong: Cur­tis was bust­ed buy­ing pot, although, per Snopes, his slack­er com­put­er-schilling per­sona was already being phased out upon news of his arrest.

Com­ment: “The adver­tise­ments were pop­u­lar with some view­ers (and annoy­ing to oth­ers), doing for slack­er col­lege stu­dents what Clara Peller did for the geri­atric set when she bel­lowed ‘Where’s the beef?’’ in Wendy’s com­mer­cials,” the New York Times wrote. Per IMDb, Cur­tis has since gone on to appear in “Law & Order,” “Mer­cy,” and “Prime­time: What Would You Do?”

8. Paula Deen

Paula Deen Smithfield credit to OnlineAthens

Image Cred­it:

Brand(s): Smith­field Brands and Novo Nordisk, among oth­ers

Year: 2013

What Went Wrong: After admit­ting in a depo­si­tion that she used a racial slur, the celebri­ty chef saw endorsers flee, restau­rants close and book deals vapor­ize. How­ev­er, in 2014, she report­ed­ly received between $75 and $100 mil­lion from a pri­vate equi­ty firm to cre­ate an umbrel­la com­pa­ny to over­see her busi­ness­es and endorse­ments. She then launched the Paula Deen Chan­nel on Roku in March 2015.

Com­ment: “Sure, Deen lost endorse­ments and tele­vi­sion shows, but she earned a pas­sion­ate fan base,” wrote David Den­nis in a 2013 opin­ion piece in The Guardian. “Paula Deen guar­an­teed that she’d always have a sub­stan­tial pop­u­la­tion of fans who would sup­port her after she was revealed as a racist. Because racism will always have a mar­ket in Amer­i­ca.”

7. Vince Offer (a.k.a., The ShamWow Guy)

ShamWow Guy with credit to CNBC

Image Cred­it: CNBC

Brand(s): Sham­Wow and Slap Chop

Year: 2009

What Went Wrong: Offer, also known as Vince Shlo­mi, was arrest­ed on a felony bat­tery charge after, as Gawk­er del­i­cate­ly put it, beat­ing up a “can­ni­bal hook­er” who bit his tongue and would not let go.

Com­ment: In 2013, the Sham­Wow spokesman mount­ed a come­back with the Schticky reusable lint roller, which was fol­lowed in 2014 by InVince­able, an “inno­v­a­tive new clean­ing con­cept [that] takes jobs pre­vi­ous­ly han­dled by a mul­ti­tude of dif­fer­ent cleaners…and shrinks them all down to one sim­ple tablet.”

6. Bill Cosby

Bill Cosby Jello with credit to

Image Cred­it:

Brand(s): Jell‑O, Coca-Cola, Texas Instru­ments and Kodak, among oth­ers

Year: 2014

What Went Wrong: In 2002, Cos­by became the longest-serv­ing celebri­ty spokesper­son for a prod­uct as a result of his rela­tion­ship with Jell‑O and he won the Pres­i­den­t’s Award for Con­tri­bu­tions to Adver­tis­ing from the Adver­tis­ing Hall of Fame in 2011. But things start­ed to go sour for the fun­ny­man after a bit from come­di­an Han­ni­bal Bur­ress call­ing him a rapist went viral and women start­ed com­ing for­ward with alle­ga­tions. Cos­by then fell from the third-most-trust­ed celebri­ty to #2,615, accord­ing to the Mar­ket­ing Arm, a divi­sion of Omni­com Group that ranks celebri­ty per­cep­tions.

Com­ment: “Rape alle­ga­tions and his own per­son­al tes­ti­mo­ny admit­ting to acquir­ing drugs for the pur­pose of sex­u­al assault have ham­pered his pub­lic image dra­mat­i­cal­ly,” said Bran­don Peach, brand­ing strate­gist at web design, SEO ser­vices and Inter­net mar­ket­ing firm EZSo­lu­tion. “In fact, while he was the third-most trust­ed celebri­ty in 2013 accord­ing to an indus­try index, he’s now dropped thou­sands of spots, and it’s safe to say he’ll nev­er be a trust­ed spokesper­son again.”


5. Michael Vick

Michael Vick Nike with credit to

Image Cred­it:

Brand(s): Nike, Reebok, Rawl­ings, Air­Tran Air­ways, Coca-Cola and Kraft Foods, among oth­ers

Year: 2007

What Went Wrong: After Vick was indict­ed on felony dog-fight­ing charges, the Atlanta Fal­cons’ one-time star quar­ter­back and first-round draft pick was released by his team, as well as mul­ti­ple brands. He even­tu­al­ly served 18 months in prison before return­ing to the NFL with the Philadel­phia Eagles in 2009.

Com­ment: Per For­tune, Nike rein­stat­ed Vick in 2011, not­ing he “had owned up to his ‘past mis­takes.’”

4. O.J. Simpson

OJ Simpson Hertz

Image Cred­it:

Brand(s): Hertz

Year: 1994

What Went Wrong: The for­mer NFL run­ning back first starred in com­mer­cials for the car rental com­pa­ny in 1975 and lat­er came to be the very face of Hertz, demon­strat­ing feats of ath­leti­cism as he ran through air­ports in count­less spots with the tagline “the super­star in rent-a-car.” He even­tu­al­ly also starred along­side golf leg­end Arnold Palmer and actress Jamie Lee Cur­tis. “Even though Simp­son had vir­tu­al­ly fad­ed from Hertz TV spots before being charged with the mur­ders of ex-wife Nicole Brown and her friend Ronald Gold­man, ‘regret­tably, O.J. Simp­son is as high­ly iden­ti­fied with Hertz as he is with foot­ball,’” Joseph Rus­so, Hertz vice pres­i­dent of pub­lic affairs, told Bloomberg in a 1995 inter­view.

Com­ment: “His­to­ry looks at O.J. Simp­son much more for being a crim­i­nal than foot­ball play­er, much in the same way Jared will be more syn­ony­mous with his crim­i­nal activ­i­ty than for los­ing weight,” said Chad Reid, direc­tor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions at web-based WYSIWYG form builder Jot­Form. “While peo­ple have most­ly for­got­ten O.J.’s tenure as a Hertz spokesper­son today, it was a rough time for the com­pa­ny dur­ing the ‘90s.” Free­lance Writer and Cre­ative Direc­tor Andy Fer­gu­son adds, “I know that he was­n’t still the offi­cial Hertz spokesman at the time his white Bron­co was cap­ti­vat­ing the world, but he had been for so long that he was ‘close­ly asso­ci­at­ed’ with the brand. And then he was ‘close­ly asso­ci­at­ed’ with lead­ing police on a bizarre and high­ly vis­i­ble car chase after mur­der­ing his ex-wife. No brand is look­ing for that asso­ci­a­tion, par­tic­u­lar­ly one that spe­cial­izes in pro­vid­ing vehi­cles to get their cus­tomers from one des­ti­na­tion to the next.”

3. Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods Plan Ahead

Image Cred­it: Michael Bren­necke

Brand(s): Accen­ture, Gatorade, AT&T, Gillette and Tag Heuer, among oth­ers

Year: 2009

What Went Wrong: After reports of Woods’ rig­or­ous off-the-course game sur­faced, the con­sult­ing firm Accen­ture was among the first to cut ties, end­ing a six-year rela­tion­ship with the golf icon.

A 2013 Forbes sto­ry notes Woods lost a total of five spon­sors and $50 mil­lion although brands like Nike and Elec­tron­ic Arts stood by him. The for­mer even released a spot with Woods lis­ten­ing to advice from his father and Woods once again topped the Golf Digest 50, an annu­al list of the high­est paid golfers, with $55.1 mil­lion in 2014. What’s more, inter­est­ing­ly enough, endorse­ments made up near­ly 99 per­cent of that fig­ure.

Com­ment: “I believe Tiger Woods’ scan­dal was more detri­men­tal to Accen­ture than any of the oth­er brands that were con­nect­ed with him. Accen­ture essen­tial­ly was doing all its mar­ket­ing through an asso­ci­a­tion to Tiger try­ing to con­vey the mes­sage about how it is a trust­wor­thy com­pa­ny that makes good deci­sions,” said Vas­silis Dalakas, pro­fes­sor of mar­ket­ing at Cal State San Mar­cos. “They used golf imagery and analo­gies to get this mes­sage across, all with the tagline ‘Go on. Be a Tiger.’ It all worked well up until his scan­dal when the entire premise of the cam­paign and the use of Woods fell apart.”

2. Oscar Pistorius

Oscar Pistorius Nike with credit to National Post

Image Cred­it:

Brand(s): Nike, BT and Oak­ley, among oth­ers

Year: 2013

What Went Wrong: The Par­a­lympic cham­pi­on had an inspi­ra­tional sto­ry of tri­umph over adver­si­ty that was appeal­ing to adver­tis­ers and con­sumers alike, but his lega­cy was for­ev­er changed upon the fatal shoot­ing of his girl­friend Ree­va Steenkamp. Pis­to­rius was lat­er found guilty of cul­pa­ble homi­cide and sen­tenced to five years in prison, although an ear­ly release deci­sion by a parole board was blocked by South Africa’s jus­tice min­is­ter just last month.

Com­ment: “I think the case of Oscar Pis­to­rius was quite bad for Nike. Not only their endors­er was charged and then sen­tenced for mur­der­ing his girl­friend, but Nike had actu­al­ly cho­sen to use him in ads ear­li­er using the tagline, ‘I am the bul­let in the cham­ber. Just do it,’ ” Dalakas said. “Clear­ly, they had no idea what the future would entail, but it’s easy to see why they need­ed to cut any asso­ci­a­tion with him imme­di­ate­ly.”

1. Lance Armstrong

Lance Armstrong / Fast Company

Image Cred­it: Fast Com­pa­ny

Brand(s): Nike, Live­strong Foun­da­tion, Trek and 24 Hour Fit­ness, among oth­ers

Year: 2012

What Went Wrong: It’s anoth­er inspi­ra­tional sto­ry gone awry. Armstrong’s for­mi­da­ble lega­cy was for­ev­er taint­ed when he admit­ted to dop­ing. He was then banned for life from com­pe­ti­tion and stripped of his Tour de France titles while his endorse­ment deals crum­bled.

Com­ment: “By far, the Lance Arm­strong deba­cle has to come clos­est to the Jared sit­u­a­tion, rel­a­tive to being a holis­tic PR night­mare for his com­pa­ny and the spon­sors he endorsed,” said Scott Davis, chief growth offi­cer at Prophet. “The num­ber of endorse­ments that he made to pow­er­ful brands, such as Nike, USPS and Live­strong, tied to his per­son­al integri­ty and believ­abil­i­ty, qual­i­ty of career and over­all suc­cess and preach­ing as a role mod­el was impos­si­ble to rec­on­cile with his admis­sion of cheat­ing. The unfor­tu­nate part with Arm­strong is that his cheat­ing fall­out far over­shad­owed any career suc­cess he had and, more impor­tant­ly, the crit­i­cal work he was doing with Live­strong.”

Who would be #1 on your list?

Lisa Lacy

Written by Lisa Lacy

Lisa is a senior features writer for Inked. She also previously covered digital marketing for Incisive Media. Her background includes editorial positions at Dow Jones, the Financial Times, the Huffington Post, AOL, Amazon, Hearst, Martha Stewart Living and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.

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