Phil Rizzuto's Death Takes Fans Down Advertising Memory Lane

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When the beloved Yankee shortstop Phil Rizzuto died Monday, fans remembered the man in their own special way: by recalling his best plays as a Yankee, or perhaps his memorable "Holy Cow!" calls from the booth.

And of course, some turned to his ignominiously bad and nostalgia-inducing Money Store commercials the Scooter starred in during the 1980s.

"Holy Cow! Are you as confused as I am about these new tax laws?" he bellows, seated in front of a lime-green background, wearing large thick-rimmed glasses, and occupying a desk with a "Phil Rizzuto" nameplate on it.

And then, emitting a decidedly fake "Aghhhh" groan a B-rate actor wouldn't be caught dead saying on-screen, Rizzuto shoves two stacks of tax papers off the desk.

"There are so many levels of bad in this commercial -- but this is kind of so bad that it works very well," said Mike Lear, a vice president and associate creative director at Martin Advertising.

The Yankee Hall of Famer is not alone in the celebrity advertisement Hall of Shame. And yet all these spots tend to bring a smile to our faces.

Who can watch without wincing — and laughing — as Fabio swings from tree to tree, is handed a piece of bread and butter from his Jane and quips: "I can't believe it's not butter"?

What about watching Mickey Rooney on a faux safari unsuccessfully trying to capture a life-size bottle of Rainier Beer with legs on it?

Or Lauren Bacall shilling for High Point coffee? "It's decaffeinated, and the flavor is marrrvelous," the Academy Award-nominee coos in the spot.

There is something about these terrible celebrity ads that occupy the depths of YouTube and Japanese television, with their cocktail of a low budget and a celebrity seeking cash or exposure, that invariably strikes our fancy.

"They're like train wrecks. It's hard not to pay attention to them," said Allen Henderson, the editor of Awfulcommercials.com. "It's a play on expectations where you expect things to be better than they are."

Most of these ads are poorly done intentionally and they tend to be made for smaller firms like the Money Store and the now-defunct Rainier Beer, advertisers and industry analysts said. By putting a famous celebrity in an unlikely role, these companies stimulate buzz in a way they otherwise could not.

"It's all about the 'shock and awe' factor and the buzz. That's what those ads are pretty much going for," said Zack Below, the CEO of the advertising agency Webzack.com. "Littler companies love doing that sort of thing because, why not?"

"At the end of the day you just want people to say, 'Oh my God did you see that with Fabio. That was just ridiculous,'" Lear said.

And there is an element of the cult about it all, Henderson said.

Watching the Rizzuto commercial, especially after his death, "could be sort of a rare 'collector's card,'" he said. "It's like a piece of trivia, or deleted scenes from a classic movie like 'Star Wars.'"

And by drawing so much attention, these "bad" commercials end up turning out to be rather good at fulfilling the purpose of advertising: getting consumers to know about your product, said Tony Calianese, the publisher of AdForum.com, which publishes a list of each week's Top 5 advertisements.

With video sites like YouTube, reliving these nostalgic spots from days past is easier than ever. And it has even exposed viewers to B-rate commercials from Japan that actors like John Travolta and Arnold Schwarzenegger probably hoped would never cross the pond.

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