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msnbc.com contributor

Explainer: The worst celebrity moments in Super Bowl ads

  • Image: K-Fed

    The greatest minds in advertising have been working feverishly for months, trying to immortalize their brand with the next great Super Bowl commercial.

    And if they don’t have any good ideas, inevitably they’ll find some flash-in-the-pan star, aging has-been or embarrassed politician, and come up with an unfunny and vaguely uncomfortable advertisement instead.

    Not all Super Bowl commercials featuring celebrities are bad. The 2010 Snickers ad co-starring Betty White and Abe Vigoda was arguably the best of the year. But looking at the success rate, you’re much better off going with a chimpanzee, an exploding mosquito or a flatulent horse than Jay Leno or a Kardashian. (Kim Kardashian, Danica Patrick, Faith Hill and “The Biggest Loser” star Jillian Michaels are among the celebrities expected to make cameos during Super Bowl XLV commercials.)

    Below are the worst celebrity Super Bowl commercial moments and campaigns of all time. Choices were made based on how horrible the cameos were when they aired, not skewed based on events that occurred since the advertisement. Which explains the absence of O.J. Simpson …

  • 10. Charles Barkley (Taco Bell, 2010)

    The ad: Charles Barkley composes a poem called “Taco Bell rocks” (“It rocks for a jock, it rocks for a fox …”), reciting it while walking through a locker and into a city street, which for unexplained reasons has crooked basketball hoops, girls dressed like cheerleader angels and 1950s-style paparazzi. Note that he doesn’t take a bite of the food he’s carrying once.

    The transgressions: We were convinced from his superb work as an NBA commentator that Barkley was incapable of not being entertaining. But this Dr. Seuss reading from hell was horrible, and impossible to get out of your head.

    Collateral damage: Los Angeles Lakers forward Lamar Odom shows up for no apparent reason. He also doesn’t eat the food.

  • Danica Patrick (GoDaddy.com, 2007-present)

    The ad: Patrick has done a series of sexually suggestive Super Bowl ads for GoDaddy.com, including one where she teases that she will disrobe online — she doesn’t — and another where she showers on a webcam for three college students.

    The transgressions: Danica Patrick broke the glass ceiling in auto racing – and she’s using the platform to make double entendres involving a stuffed beaver. The misogynist ads have brought GoDaddy success, but they are horribly made and rarely funny.

    Collateral damage: Look somewhere else for a role model, girls.

  • Joe Namath (Noxzema, 1973)

    The ad: Joe Namath says “I’m so excited. I’m going to get creamed!” Then a pre-“Charlie’s Angels” Farrah Fawcett lovingly spreads shaving cream all over his face as quasi-porn music plays. This commercial is widely considered to be the first high-profile Super Bowl ad.

    The transgressions: In addition to being a very stupid ad, the Noxzema spot made every dorky-looking guy with a goofy grin and shaggy haircut think he could get Farrah Fawcett.

    Collateral damage: Things turned out pretty good for Fawcett. But Namath was never the same, compiling a 13-29 post-Noxzema NFL record with a 47 touchdowns and 77 interceptions.

  • Britney Spears (Pepsi, 2002)

    The ad: Pepsi enlists the 21-year-old pop star and sends her to 1958, where she does a Marilyn Monroe imitation, struts in high heels, blows kisses and winks – all while singing about “Pepsi … for those who think young!”

    The transgressions: The nod to Monroe was inappropriate for Spears, who was more of a flash-in-the-pan than a legitimate icon. Pepsi should have known that the advertisement would reflect poorly on the brand during her eventual descent.

    Collateral damage: Within a year of the ad, Spears was kissing Madonna. Then she got married in Las Vegas, got divorced 2 ½ days later, shaved her head, went to rehab, ignored child car seat laws and lost custody of her children to Kevin Federline. Which brings us to ...

  • Kevin Federline (Nationwide, 2007)

    The ad: Surrounded by beautiful women and living the high life, KFed stars in a rap video called “Rollin’ VIP.” It’s revealed to be a dream, and the real Federline is shown working in a fast food joint. “Federline, fries!” his boss barks.

    The transgressions: The humorous ad was leaked to broadcasters, and the punch line was ruined days before the Super Bowl. The ad received attention, but no one remembered five minutes later that it was for Nationwide Insurance.

    Collateral damage: When Federline’s and Spears’s kids start Googling their parents, this event is barely going to register on the embarrassment scale. French fry-themed jokes continued when an overweight Federline ended up in “Celebrity Fit Club.”

  • Everyone associated with the Bud Bowl (Budwieser, 1989-1997)

    The ads: A championship football game — the Bud Bowl — is played between anthropomorphic cans and bottles of Budweiser and Bud Light. Using stop motion animation, famous scenes in football history are reenacted.

    The transgressions: The ads themselves had an entertaining moment or two, but the celebrity guests who showed up on the sidelines always looked like they had guns to their heads. Corbin Bernsen, Mike Ditka, Ahmad Rashad, Bob Costas and Bum Phillips were among the casualties.

    Collateral damage: Announcing part of the Bud Bowl series was the second-most embarrassing thing to happen to Marv Albert. Sadly, Don Meredith’s turn as a Bud Bowl announcer in 1991 was one of his last high-profile gigs.

  • Mike Ditka (Levitra, 2004)

    The ad: The former Chicago Bears coach talks about how much tougher football players are than baseball players — to illustrate that Levitra is a much more effective erectile dysfunction drug than Viagra.

    The transgressions: No shame in needing some help in the bedroom, but if you’re going to pitch an erectile dysfunction drug, a more humble approach seems appropriate. We’re also reporting Ditka to the metaphor police for the not-so-subtle image of a football being thrown through the hole in a tire.

    Collateral damage: Ditka’s ad was aired on the same year as the Janet Jackson partially bared breast controversy, and was used by critics to support the thesis that the Super Bowl had become too risqué.

  • Dan Quayle (Lays potato chips, 1994)

    The ad: A precocious young boy (played by a pre-teen Elijah Wood) at the Super Bowl bets fans their tickets that they can’t eat just one Wavy Lays potato chip. Along the way the kid runs into former vice-president Dan Quayle, who once seemed clueless about how to spell the word “potato.” He wins the bet and gets Quayle’s seat.

    The transgressions: Why would the chip maker would want to connect their product to one of the most ridiculed politicians in history? The awkward scene with Quayle lacks a punch line — apparently the politician is the punch line.

    Collateral damage: Quayle’s presence ended up being a curse to both Troy Aikman (concussion problems) and Elijah Wood (hunted by Orcs, betrayed by Gollum).

  • Ed McMahon (Cash4Gold, 2008)

    The ad: Former “The Tonight Show” sidekick Ed McMahon shills for a company that turns your gold jewelry and other possessions into cash. Reports of McMahon’s financial troubles were widespread — he almost lost his Beverly Hills home and later went on “Larry King Live” to talk about his problems.

    The transgressions: Indignities ahoy in the commercial as a clearly ailing McMahon pretends to sell his possessions, including a gold toilet and his gold hip replacement.

    Collateral damage: MC Hammer was in the ad, too. But for reasons we can’t explain, it was funny, not sad, when the rapper sold his gold sledgehammer and gold pants. McMahon passed away the next year.

  • Fred Astaire (Dirt Devil, 1997)

    The ad: Fred Astaire, who died in 1987, is brought back to life for this Super Bowl ad, using special effects to make it look like the legendary actor is cutting a rug with a red Dirt Devil vacuum cleaner.

    The transgressions: The public was split, with some loving the ads and others feeling like it was the worst kind of grave robbery. Dirt Devil didn’t seem to hear the critics: The ad campaign continued for most of the rest of the year.

    Collateral damage: Other stars, including Lucille Ball and Steve McQueen, would make posthumous appearances for products. (At least McQueen was behind the wheel of a Mustang, which is what we imagine he’s doing in Heaven.)

    Related: The 10 best Super Bowl ads of this century

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