A Product Endorsement From the Hereafter

A couple of weeks ago, I bitterly complained about Robert DeNiro and his shilling for American Express. Now I see Steve McQueen selling the 2005 Mustang in a commercial before a movie (well, actually, in a commercial running before the lights go down, so a commerical before the commercials). This is odd, because McQueen died in 1980. McQueen has been digitally added to the commercial, where he emerges from a cornfield, climbs into a car and drives off. I believe I’ve seen a similar ad using vintage footage of Frank Sinatra.

Things have gotten truly out of hand when the estates of dead actors are using their moving image to sell cars. When you deconstruct it, the notion is hilarious–it’s a celebrity endorsing a product from the next life. But then, why stop at entertainers?

Hi, I’m Adolf Hitler. When I’m burning in the eternal fires of Hell, I quench my thirst with Pepsi Edge. All of the taste and half the carbs!

I wonder how estate law applies here. If I’m a celebrity, can I include a rider in my will that ensures my estate can’t exploit my image? How solid will that be, when the only people left are the people seeking to benefit from my image? Things will get more complex when (if it ever happens, which seems unlikely), McQueen’s films enter the public domain.

Written by dbarefoot

Darren Barefoot is an author, speaker and digital strategist. He’s the co-founder of Capulet Communications, and co-author of “Friends With Benefits: A Social Media Marketing Handbook”.


  1. better yet, how about selling the rights to your image to a company that’ll use it 2 to 3 generations after you’ve shuffled off? You’ll be famous again to another generation ( selling more dvd’s or whatever format is in then ie “Bullitt”) and your estate will be reaping the profits.

    may as well milk it even from beyond…

  2. Weird Factoid: The Steve McQueen car commercial was shot in Vancouver. Well, I think it was Langley, but close enough. A local actor played him in some shots, and they mixed it with classic footage.

  3. Gene Kelly is also (cleverly) selling Volkswagens:

    http://image.guardian.co.uk/sys-video/Media/ video/2005/01/27/golfgti.mov

    Once films and other material enter the public domain, I think things get _less_ complex, not more: anyone can do whatever they want with them. If you want to make a film saying “England sucks!” starring Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare, and Sherlock Holmes, you can go right ahead. And you can include footage of someone playing Mark Twain cheering it on.

  4. For that matter, it’s not the first time Steve McQueen’s made a posthumous appearance in a car add for Ford: Ford UK put out an add starring McQueen some six or eight years ago.

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