This item was originally published on April 21, 2010 at Fast Company.
Did you know that Cindy Crawford has her own line of face creams? Did you know that the anti-aging properties are due to the key ingredient, Charentais cantaloupe, a “rare French melon”? Did you know that Cindy Crawford allegedly retains her youthful looks through Botox, collagen and vitamin injections? Do you even remember who Cindy Crawford is?
I had forgotten Crawford existed at all until a co-worker told me she had tried a free sample of Crawford’s Meaningful Beauty Anti-Aging Night Crème and liked it, but couldn’t bear to look at the name on the label. “I have to turn it around so I don’t see her name on it. It’s just too embarassing.” I can sympathize. There’s a difference between celebrity endorsements (say, William Shatner shilling for Priceline) and those stars who actually slap their names on the products (the George Foreman Grill now only $24.99 at Amazon).
Celebrities hawking products, as well as proper-name-branded items, go back a long way – probably since commerce was invented, really. In more recent times, we’ve grown accustomed to wearing clothes identified only by the designer’s name, like Calvin Klein or Coco Chanel, while women’s skin care and makeup still relies on brand names like Max Factor and Estée Lauder. The difference between a product bearing the name of Max Factor, a man recognized as a pioneer in cinematic makeup, and one “developed” by Cindy Crawford, a woman famous for a mole on her face, is one of integrity – or perhaps pedigree is a better word.
Max Factor (née Maximilian Faktorowicz) spent years developing makeup for actors in early Hollywood, and soon became an authority on cosmetics. Estée Lauder (née Josephine Esther Mentzer) worked with her uncle, a chemist, selling and marketing face creams until she could launch her own cosmetics company. Elizabeth Arden (née Florence Nightingale Graham) traveled around France, learning about beauty products and techniques in Paris beauty salons. Even Mary Kay Ash (hey! That’s her real – married – name!) bought a secret formula which had been developed by a tanner’s daughter (it kept hands surprisingly soft). Somehow, Cindy Crawford and her cantaloupe just don’t measure up.
But perhaps I’m being unfair. Crawford appears regularly on QVC, hawking her melon cream, but somebody must be buying it, just like somebody must be buying all the other products pushed by celebrities, like Ellen DeGeneres (and “celebrities”, like Paula Abdul, Marie Osmond, and Anson Williams) in the wee hours of the morning. Someone must share Jessica Simpson’s taste in shoes and handbags. And after all, you can buy Yves Saint Laurent makeup from QVC, and that stuff’s not cheap crap.
Maybe what bothers me is just the disconnect between the celebrity and the product. Part of the genius of George Foreman Grill was the appropriate and yet amusing, even ironic-in-a-hipster-way, association of a world heavyweight boxing champ and an electric clamshell grill. Foreman could certainly represent healthy eating – it’s part of what helped his comeback in 1994 – but no one ever thought he invented the damn thing. He just made an offbeat and very visible spokesperson for a product that actually worked. Likewise, I don’t have a problem with DeGeneres’ pushing Halo pet food on QVC; she owns half the company, but before that she was well-known for her love of animals and support of organizations like the Humane Society.
Which brings me back to Cindy Crawford, who is no doubt a fine-looking woman without make-up on. But knowing how the modeling biz operates, I just don’t believe her when she says her cantaloupe cream will make me look younger. Models rub Preparation H under their eyes to get rid of bags, so I’d trust Kate Moss if she tried to sell me some, but I don’t think she’s going to appear as their mascot any time soon.
If you’d like to follow this train of thought to its logical conclusion, Cracked.com has thoughtfully compiled a list of the 11 Most Pointless Celebrity Products, which includes such gems as Jeff Foxworthy Beef Jerky, Steven Seagal’s Lightning Bolt Energy Drink, Joe Perry’s Rock Your World Hot Sauce (wait, what?), and, of course, Billy Beer. Personally, I’m waiting for sleepwear designed by the First Lady: Obama Pajamas!