Jackson, Fawcett, McMahon were ad icons, too

As world mourns stars, Madison Ave. mourns commercial heavyweights.

ByTheresa Howard, USA TODAY
June 25, 2009, 11:36 PM

— -- While Hollywood mourns the loss of three stars that span generations Madison Avenue is mourning the loss of three commercial icons.

Michael Jackson, 50, who died Thursday, became a global sensation with his pop songs that were revamped to run in two Pepsi campaigns to promote the soft drink as the choice of a "new generation." The message became the new marketing to replace what had long been its message: the Pepsi generation.

Jackson helped recreate the all-time hit Billie Jean in one ad and Bad in another for Pepsi ads created by agency BBDO. But the Billie Jean remake was an endearing look at the enormity of the pop star's appeal at the time. In it Jackson and gang of friends visit a neighborhood where a young boy is imitating Jackson's own dance moves from the Billie Jean video.

"He really set the bar for the corporate world to embrace pop music," says Ryan Schinman, CEO, Platinum Rye Entertainment, which partners celebrities and music talent for commercials. "The minute that Michael did that ad it broke the mold for pop stars to endorse corporations. And today it is still one of the most memorable commercials of all time."

Jackson's song and dance moves set the stage for the future of pop music in commercials. He had worked with ad agency BBDO and Pepsi to re-craft the lyrics to include Pepsi's ad message into his song. (Read about how the deal went down in this excerpt of the book Then We Set His Hair on Fire: Insights and Accidents from a Hall of Fame Career in Advertising, by Phil Dusenberry.)

The singer's passing marks the third this week for well-known personalities who were grounded in commercial work.

Farrah Fawcett, 62, died earlier Thursday of cancer. The actress, who was diagnosed with cancer in 2006, got her start in a slew of commercials in the 1970s. She appeared in ads for Noxzema shaving cream with NFL great Joe Namath, an ad for the Mercury Cougar, Ultra-Brite toothpaste her own line of shampoo by Faberge.

Ed McMahon, 86, who made his name alongside Johnny Carson in The Tonight Show, passed away Tuesday. He made a name for himself in ads for the American Family Sweepstakes. In ads he showed up with a giant check at the homes of winners of Publishers Clearinghouse. He also appeared in a Super Bowl ad in February when he appeared with MC Hammer to promote Cash4Gold. The two stars, who had been down on their luck and dollars in recent years, sent in items such as gold record for Hammer and gold cuff links for McMahon.

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