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Face on the Cover

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Have we emphasized enough what we're selling here?

Greta Garbo and Monroe
Dietrich and Joe DiMaggio
Marlon Brando, Jimmy Dean
On the cover of a magazine.

Exactly What It Says on the Tin. One of the oldest tricks in advertising is using the face of a celebrity to sell your product. Films, cartoons, comic books, video games and TV series will put the main actors or characters on the posters, ads or DVD covers. Novels and non-fiction books will use the author or a main character. Music albums will just show a photograph of the band or the lead singer, especially after the transition from large LP covers to smaller cassettes, CDs, and digital music at the same popular music became more personality-driven.

It's the easiest and most uninspiring way to sell your product. Doing something artistic, like making a Design Student's Orgasm cover where the actual creators or cast may not be seen at all, may be more clever and intriguing, but also confusing to the potential audience. Why show just a picture of a location, an abstract color or motive or something unrelated to the lyrics or music if these things will just confuse potential clients? Just put the face of the creator or main cast on the cover and people will immediately identify it as their latest installment. It's Show, Don't Tell in its most blatant form.

The face will often be a close-up, but can also be full frontal. If the creator or cast member is identifiable by silhouette you may show him on the back. Usually he, she or them will be shown prominently on the foreground so that other elements (other people, animals, buildings, nature,...) will not distract. When its just a floating head it's Floating Head Syndrome.

This is rarely used for animation and video games as the characters are entirely fictional and probably not recognizable to anyone that doesn't know the franchise already. There are exceptions when the character is absurdly popular and well known or has a famous actor and is heavily based on them.

Compare with Wolverine Publicity (when one person is always put on the cover, despite hardly being in the work half of the time). Contrast Anonymous Band.

Example subpages:

Other examples:

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  • Some specific brands who make use of a face on all of their products:
    • Uncle Ben and Aunt Jemima were consistently depicted on the packaging for their eponymous brands of breakfast foods and instant rice, respectively. This ultimately changed in 2020, when both characters were phased out due to growing awareness of their origins as racist caricatures of house slaves. Both brands were respectively renamed to Ben's Original and Pearl Milling Company and the likenesses of Uncle Ben and Aunt Jemima are no longer depicted.
    • Bibendum for Michelin tires.
    • Captain Birdseye for Captain Birdseye fishsticks.
    • Chef Boyardee for Chef Boyardee pasta.
    • The Burger King on Burger King restaurants.
    • Mr. Clean on Mr. Clean cleaning products.
    • Rich Uncle Pennybags is featured prominently on the box of every Monopoly game.
    • Colonel Sanders on Kentucky Fried Chicken.
    • The Laughing Cow on La Vache Qui Rit cheese.
    • Alfred E. Neuman appears on the front of every issue of MAD Magazine.
    • Rastus on Cream of Wheat boxes.

  • Sometime in The New '10s, literally every major film studio reissued the bulk of their family film library (and a few movies that aren't very family friendly, e.g. Billy Madison) with almost minimalistic covers featuring the film's title and a closeup of (usually) one of the main characters against a solid color backdrop. This was seemingly done so they'd be easier for kids to recognize the depicted character while hunting in the kids movie section in Target and the like.

  • Isaac Asimov:
    • The Bicentennial Man and Other Stories:
      • Downplayed for the cover of the original 1976 publication, where Dr Asimov appears holding up the face of a completely unrelated statue. Still, by this point he had grown his sideburns and started wearing glasses constantly, so his face is readily recognizable even if it isn't a closeup.
      • On the 1978 Fawcett Crest cover is a man with unusual eyes, indicating that it is intended to represent Andrew Martin.
    • The Complete Robot: Most authors aren't famous enough for their face to sell the book. However, Dr Asimov's portrait is included on the back cover of the Science Fiction Book Club edition because this was supposed to be the definitive collection of his robot stories. (He wrote more, he's addicted to writing more.)
  • Isaac Asimov and Robert Silverberg's The Positronic Man: Most of the covers have some sort of humanoid figure, implied to be Andrew Martin. The 1993 cover gives him a half-human, half-robot face, with the robot half in darkness to emphasize his robotic red eye. Other covers show him as all-human or all-robot, or as a "something else", obscuring the features entirely and leaving only a silhouette.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Sesame Street actually has an unwritten rule that no matter how little he may be involved in the product, Elmo has to be featured on the covers of books and DVDs, otherwise they won't sell (overlapping this trope with Wolverine Publicity at times). Case in point: When the 25th anniversary edition of Sesame Street Presents: Follow That Bird was released, Elmo was included on the DVD cover art, despite Elmo only appearing in a very brief cameo toward the end of the movie.note  Similarly, the direct-to-DVD special A Sesame Street Christmas Carol also has Elmo on the cover, though the special is about Oscar, and Elmo only appears in flashback clips.

  • This is basically how all popular magazines sell their product. They put the face of a celebrity on the cover.
  • MAD Magazine. You'll always know you're looking at a Mad magazine issue, because Alfred E. Neuman's face is nearly always visibly present.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • The Trope Maker, at least as far as pro wrestling goes, is El Santo. Technically "mask on the cover" but the same concept otherwise. He already donated much of his time and money to charity and lend his image to several public works projects through Mexico, so commercialization efforts such as El Santo comic books were inevitable. He went on to appear and even star in several feature films, and despite the overwhelming majority of them being corny at best film scholars insist these movies are of the utmost importance to not only the pro wrestling industry but to feature films in general.
  • Wrestlers in the southern United States were notorious for "selling gimmicks" during the territorial era. This was when kayfabe was still fairly strong, it had nothing to do with "selling" or The Gimmick as related to Wrestling Psychology but referred to trying to get fans to buy ordinary products with baby face wrestler faces on them before, during the intermission of and after a show. The absolute kings of gimmick selling were The Rock 'n' Roll Express, who could probably sell a case less tennis racket if one could find a good way to get a picture of Ricky Morton on it. With the death of the territories and the subsequent loss in profits made on wrestling shows, gimmick or "merchandise" selling has become a nearly ubiquitous practice in United States pro wrestling. The good news for pro wrestling fans is that as dropping VHS tape prices played a significant role in killing the territories, some of the "merchandise" might include a DVD with wrestling matches and other footage they might be interested in looking at. And you can bet that DVD(or DVD case if the enterprise has the budget for cases)will have the face of a wrestler on it, especially if any involved wrestler has had exposure in one of the few major promotions left on the post territorial circuit.
  • This was Caleb Konley's main motivation for everything he did in EVOLVE. Of course Konley didn't necessarily need his face on any particular bit of merchandise, and he wouldn't be satisfied even if his face was on every EVOLVE product, promotional package and poster. He literally wanted his face everywhere and wanted the camera on his perfect face at all times. You can probably guess where the fans, and other wrestlers wanted his face to be.

    Video Games 
  • The cover of Dark Souls 3 features an armoured man officially called The Red Knight. He's actually the Final Boss, the Soul of Cinder, an amalgamation of everyone that ever linked the First Flame. This includes the player characters (ie you) from the previous Dark Souls games and the first game's Final Boss Gwyn.
  • The cover of Dead or Alive 5: Last Round does this, only showing main protagonist Kasumi and her clone Phase 4's faces.
  • The cover of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain only features a side shot of Venom Snake's face, with a big red ! with a V for a bar over it.
  • Resident Evil:
    • Code Veronica X's European box art is simply a large close-up of Claire's face.
    • The European cover for Survivor 2 has a similar close up, except a lot more gross since it's a zombie.
  • Every Fallout game has had this:
    • Fallouts 1, 2 3, and 4 have power armor helmets; specifically, the T-51b, Advanced Power Armor, T-45d, and T-60, respectively.
    • Fallout: New Vegas, on the other hand, has the NCR Ranger Armor on it.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • Many Looney Tunes featured book and magazine covers which come to life at night after the store that they're in closes. A lot of them are covers that feature celebrities, which gives the animators lots of opportunities to create celebrity parodies. Have You Got Any Castles? and Book Revue are two examples of these cartoons.