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The Dead Rise to Advertise

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Mao disapproves.

"You celebrities need to realize that the public owns you for life! And after you're dead, you'll all be in commercials dancing with vacuum cleaners."

There was a point when the Uncanny Valley was theoretical. Today, we have proof. Horrible, horrible proof. Computers have given producers incredible abilities to manipulate images and create breathtaking effects for film and television audiences. However, this power has a very controversial dark side.

Famous but long-dead celebrities have been digitally resurrected to lend their endorsements to numerous commercial products. Photographs or scenes from their filmed appearances are digitally processed to show them interacting with various products or people hawking those products. These appearances aren't limited to film and TV stars. Historical figures have given their digital support to numerous products and services as well.

The use of dead celebrities' images has diminished over the past decade, especially in North America. This is in part due to the public's growing distaste for the trend, but another influence has been the implementation of inconsistent personality rights laws across the continent that leave advertisers unsure as to whether they need to obtain expensive permission from a dead celebrity's estate to use the deceased's image. Twelve states (and Quebec in Canada) have laws on the books that prohibit the unauthorized use of such images, but the length of time these rights exist after death varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and in most states the use of an image in a "work of art" is excluded - but in most cases nobody has defined whether advertisements are works of art. It's easier just to hire a double.


A variation of this is to use historical footage of said celebrities from when they were still alive.


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  • In this TNT ad for the NBA, players from various eras of basketball were digitally added into shots to make it seem like they were playing together (Steve Nash meeting Pete Maravich, Larry Bird assisting Ray Allen, Magic Johnson playing alongside Kobe Bryant, Derrick Rose fist-bumping Michael Jordan, etc). Granted, most of these players are still alive, but it's sweet to see all these greats together in their prime.
    • Gatorade did a similar thing in one of their ads, illustrating that timing is everything. Included are depictions of Michael Jordan missing The Shot, that famous Derek Jeter relay a fraction off with the runner scoring, and Dwight Clark unable to haul in The Catch.
  • Fred Astaire (1899-1987) danced with a Dirt Devil vacuum cleaner in a 1996 ad. Incidentally, this is what Homer Simpson was referring to in the page quote. His daughternote , for her part, was "saddened that after his wonderful career he was sold to the devil".
  • A 1996 ad for Diet Coke features Paula Abdul dancing with Gene Kelly (1912-1996) and Groucho Marx (1890-1977). Cary Grant (1904-1986) poured her a Diet Coke when she was finished. See it here.
  • And speaking of Gene Kelly, he was made to breakdance to a remix of his own "Singin' in the Rain" in this Volkswagen ad.
  • Every single Presidents Day will bring commercials showing George Washington and Abraham Lincoln pitching Presidents' Day sales, most of them for car dealers.
  • John Wayne (1907-1979) hawked Coors beer.
    • And Great Western Savings and Loan... before it was acquired by Washington Mutual... before it was acquired by Chase Manhattan.
  • Steve McQueen (1930-1980) showed up in a Field of Dreams-style commercial for Ford Mustang.
    • And also in a UK commercial for Ford, where he appeared to be driving it during the Bullitt chase sequence.
  • Bob Monkhouse did some prostate cancer awareness ads, four years after his death from it, even posing with his tombstone! In this case, it was accomplished using editing of existing footage, as well as the voice acting talent of Simon Cartwright — whose impressions of Monkhouse are so dead-on that even Bob himself felt that Cartwright "[did] me better than I do". They have been followed up with carriage ads on The London Underground, complete with "six feet under" jokes.
  • Super Bowl LII featured an ad for Ram Trucks with audio clips from a speech by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Unfortunately for the creators of the commercial, Dr. King later went on to criticize advertising including car ads in the same sermon.
  • The less said about "Evil Undead Orville Redenbacher", the better.
  • For one McDonald's promotion where BIC ball-point pens were given away, Mark Twain appeared in a commercial to promote them; he was joined by William Shakespeare at the end of it.
  • Shakespeare also appeared in a commercial for Klondike Bars, where the narrator asked him if he would write a television sitcom for a Klondike Bar.
  • Elvis Presley appeared in a mid-90's Pizza Hut commercial.
  • Audrey Hepburn advertised for the Gap in 2006 after a 13-year dirt nap.
  • Nando's South Africa produced a somewhat Tear Jerking advert featuring Robert Mugabe and several of his deceased dictator friends. The dictators included Muammar Gaddafi, Saddam Hussein, Idi Amin, and South Africa's own P. W. Botha.
  • A variation: When Yul Brynner learned he was dying of lung cancer, he filmed this PSA, to be shown after his death.
  • Justified in Canadian meat company Schneider's adverts, in which actual footage (which is black-and-white in contrast to the rest of the advert, which is in colour) of founder Mr. Joseph Schneider himself is used. He says its slogan, "You can taste the difference quality makes".
  • Inverted in an ad for a charity campaign, in which a regular guy asked for money for some cause and ended saying "Or would you only help us if she asked you?" while holding a mask of Princess Diana up to his face.
  • The use of actors playing dead US presidents is a long tradition in US advertising, especially in February around Presidents Day. Now, CGI presidents are becoming common.
  • A British ad campaign featured real footage of Édith Piaf singing "Je ne regrette rien." Instead of an accurate translation, the subtitles claimed she's singing that there's actually one thing she does regret- she could have got cheap glasses from Specsavers.
  • A 2009 commercial for the charity One Laptop Per Child took the phenomenon in a new direction, not only using John Lennon's image, but digitally manipulating his voice to create an original statement. Remember when that was a farfetched plot device in season 2 of 24? Science Marches On.
  • Marilyn Monroe was also used in the Dior J'adore Perfume Commercial, along with Marlene Dietrich and Grace Kelly. Dietrich and Kelly look fine, but Monroe falls hard into the Uncanny Valley.
  • When Jeff Wayne revived his Rock Opera of The War of the Worlds as a stage production in the late 2000s, a holographic image of the late Sir Richard Burton, who played the Journalist on the album, was projected onstage to narrate. An actor with a similar facial structure was recruited to lip-sync the part, with Burton's image superimposed over his movements.
  • After Jim Varney died, Cerritos Auto Square faced some local controversy when they revived their Ernest P. Worrell commercials starting on the day of Varney's death. It was later found that they did this as a favor to his family, as Varney had always been fond of his work in those commercials.
  • Older Than Radio: There was an advertising campaign in the nineteenth century with a poster featuring Tutankhamun climbing out of his coffin and offering a bewildered lady and gentleman the all-curing Mummy Powder.
  • A 2000 commercial for the U.S. Sacajawea dollar coin had George Washington (who was green, like on the dollar bill) promoting it, saying it was just as good as the dollar bill.
  • DirecTV have been running a series of ads combining edited pieces of old films with new footage of an actor from the film (Christopher Lloyd endorsing it dressed as Doc Brown combined with footage of the DeLorean, for instance). Controversially, a couple of these ads have also involved editing in dead co-stars: First Craig T. Nelson did one interacting with footage of the late Heather O'Rourke from Poltergeist, then David Spade did the same with footage of Chris Farley taken from Tommy Boy. The backlash was loud enough that the campaign was discontinued shortly after.
  • Harland "Colonel" Sanders (1890 - 1980) would eventually be animated and voiced by Randy Quaid to continue selling Kentucky Fried Chicken.
    • There was another commercial aired in the early '90s. We see a man in a Col. Sanders suit (the camera never shows his face) as he looks through some papers in a '50s era kitchen and grumbles about not being able to find a certain recipe. We then pan to a piece of paper stuck behind the table and the words "To be continued...". After a few weeks the second half of the commercial is shown, in which a modern day KFC employee is in the kitchen - now a museum - and finds the paper which allegedly is the Colonel's recipe for grilled chicken.
    • Quaid himself played Col. Sanders in a few live action KFC commercials in the early 90s.
    • In 2015, they launched a new series of ads with a live-action Darrell Hammond, of Saturday Night Live fame, portraying Colonel Sanders, reportedly as part of a campaign to try to boost struggling sales that have been lost to Chick-fil-A. The campaign was instantly reviled (though more due to its terrible, aggressive attempts at anti-humor than anything else), and fellow SNL alumnus Norm MacDonald quickly stepped in to play a more low-key Colonel; while this change was slightly better received by some, the consensus by most was that the campaign was just generally a bad idea.
    • Still, KFC has continued to rotate actors and comedians into the role of the Colonel, the latest being Jim Gaffigan and George Hamilton (as the "extra crispy Colonel," to promote extra-crispy chicken).
  • This Greenpeace ad features a CGI-animated John F. Kennedy complete with robotic voice talking about global warming. Dead President + Creepy Monotone + bad lipsyncing = Nightmare Fuel.
  • Averted with Dave Thomas, founder and CEO of Wendy's, who starred in countless commercials for his fast-food chain. After his death, all commercials featuring him were pulled and there has been no attempt to reuse old footage or his image in new advertising. His daughter, after whom the restaurant chain is named, basically replaced him as pitchman for a few years.
    • Unfortunately, one of the last commercial spots Dave filmed before his death was a bumper that was added to the end of numerous commercials, advertising the fact that Wendy's drive-thru was now open until midnight. The last many of us saw of Mr. Thomas was an image of him, pale and clearly not in good health, leaning out of a drive-thru window and sleepily intoning, "See you later..."
  • Also averted with Billy Mays; his commercials have slowly been phased out, or manipulated to feature different salespeople in his place for full-body shots.
    • A commercial starts with Billy Mays, then switches to Anthony Sullivan, a close friend of him, with the Mays ad inset into the background. Sullivan uses the fact that Mays used to advertise OxiClean as a selling point for the product, as well as carrying on Mays' legacy on the product with respect.
  • Nike created a stir by broadcasting an ad in which the voice of Tiger Woods's dead father, Earl Woods, seemingly chastises him for his infidelities. The audio came from a 2004 documentary, and Earl Woods is actually talking about differences between himself and his wife/Tiger's mother.
  • A political advertisement used the Historical Footage variation, starting with John F. Kennedy giving a political speech, and a modern-day politician finishing the same speech.
  • This car commercial features a lot of historical (mostly communist) revolutionaries.
  • During The World Cup 2010, a German Volkswagen ad featured the football players Fritz Walter, Paul Breitner and Rudi Völler in form of manipulated footage from the the era when the respective player's team did win the cup. Breitner and Völler are still alive, but Walter passed in 2002.
  • Braun made a 1996 commercial starring Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton, and it was a relative cinch, since they took footage from an episode in which they're already shilling a kitchen tool. (Art "Ed" Carney was still alive then [he died in 2003], and in fact even recorded a few ADR lines for the ad; Jackie "Ralph" Gleason, on the other hand, had been dead for 9 years, and was dubbed by Joe Alaskey)
  • In 2010 a Chinese lingerie company put up a series of billboards featuring the late Princess Diana clad in their undies. On the 13th anniversary of her death, no less.
  • During the 2011 American version of The X Factor, Pepsi debuted an ad featuring footage of Ray Charles and Michael Jackson. However, it was not digitally altered; it was actual footage of commercials they made for the soft drink.
  • The Japanese made Freddie Mercury sound like he was born to eat Cup Noodles.
  • This ad for pistachios, starring Keyboard Cat. The cat used in the ad is a different one from the original video, but is referred to as Keyboard Cat, as in the Keyboard Cat, who died in 1987.
  • Johnnie Walker created a Chinese ad in which a CGI Bruce Lee walked around an empty apartment/loft/hotel room and delivered a bit of a motivational dialogue in Mandarin Chinese. Two problems: 1) Bruce spoke Cantonese, not Mandarin and 2) Bruce Lee didn't drink.
  • Chicago-based Empire Today continues to use the likeness of former pitchman Lynn Hauldren (in CGI form) in its TV commercials, even though Hauldren passed away in 2011. In 2015, Hauldren’s likeness was changed to look younger, with brown hair.
  • In 2012, Macy's premiered a Christmas commercial that seamlessly manipulated footage of the late Edmund Gwenn as Kris Kringle to interact with modern-day celebrities such as Jessica Simpson, Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift.
  • Mazda had a 2014 advertisement, using images of Bruce Lee, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and Hervé Villechaize to advertise various products in the car maker's stable.
  • Hulu Japan used film critic Nagaharu Yodogawa, who died in 1998, to tell that your family can watch Jurassic Park, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and Despicable Me free for the first two weeks. It averts Uncanny Valley by rendering Yodogawa in a low poly model (similar to Professor Kawashima's head in Brain Age), but still uses audio editing for his speech.
    Yodogawa: Isn't that cute? Isn't that cute?
  • The automaker Dodge launched a series of commercials starring its founding Dodge brothers, who died in 1920.
  • Brewer Stella Artois went even further back: a 2016 commercial stars its founder Sebastien Artois, who purchased the brewery in 1717.
  • Long-time Chicago Cubs announcer Harry Caray died in 1998. The day after the Cubbies won the 2016 World Series, Budweiser produced a congratulations ad that combined audio recordings of Caray with game footage to "let" him call the final out. (The ad was produced with the approval of Caray's family.)
  • Downplayed in a Nespresso ad, where George Clooney travels through various movies to get a Nespresso. Inevitably there are a few scenes that feature deceased actors, but their scenes are not really edited, unless you count Clooney being added to them (and the 16:9 ratio conversion).
  • One surprising example comes from this AT&T anti texting while driving ad as part of their It Can Wait campaign. It features 2 teens talking about how their lives may have been if "things turned out differently.", although it's not immediately explained what they're referring to. The ad then reveals that both teens are actually CGI reconstructions of an older version of them, and then stating that they were killed in distracted driving accidents when they were young. Old images and videos of them at the time are shown while their families talk about their accidents, and then the ad shows how they created the reconstructions using those old photos. It ends with two title cards showing their last photos taken while alive, along with the year they were born and the year they were killed.
  • An unusual example emerges with commercials for Elizabeth Taylor's "White Diamonds" perfume. The commercials were made while she was still alive, but have continued to get airplay long after her death (typically at year-end to drive Christmas sales).
  • This Russian commercial for Sberbank and other Sber services featurey Leonid Kuravlev as Zhorzh Miloslavsky via the magic of neural networks. In the ad, Miloslavsky travels in time to see the expansion of "Sberkassa" he famously alluded to in a fourth-wall breaking moment.
  • In this 1994 ad, Alfred Hitchcock invites homebuyers to get a mortgage quote from Nationwide Building Society. The creators took a clip from Alfred Hitchcock Presents, had a soundalike record his lines and used CGI to match his lip movements to the words.

  • Several Guitar Hero and Rock Band games feature deceased musicians as playable characters, mo-capped by professional impersonators:
    • Guitar Hero World Tour features Jimi Hendrix, who can only be used on his songs per the agreement with his estate to use his likeness and songs.
    • Guitar Hero 5 features Johnny Cash and Kurt Cobain; unlike Hendrix, they can be used in any song, which resulted in much hilarity (of the wrong kind), Fan Dumb-raging and Courtney Love pissing-off.
    • The Beatles Rock Band features the two dead Beatles, John Lennon and George Harrison, although the game would be epic bullcrap if it didn't.
    • LEGO Rock Band features the likenesses of the band Queen as Lego avatars, including the late Freddie Mercury, although having him appear in adorable Lego form is a lot less insensitive.
  • The Canadian audio comedy group Radio Free Vestibule did a skit in 1995 called "Laurence Olivier for Diet Coke", which purported to be an ad for Diet Coke assembled by splicing together things Laurence Olivier said in his many films and interviews. ("I wish I could have some now. But I can't, because I'm dead!")
  • The restaurant chain Moe's (not that one) used to adorn its shops with posters of various musicians, both living and dead. They eventually had to pull all of the posters after being sued by the estate of one of the musicians. At first, they replaced the artwork with generic music-themed images, then later used pictures of celebrity look-alikes... with the disclaimer that there is no implied endorsement by any actual celebrities whom the pictures might resemble.
  • The Unification Church has released documents in which every deceased former president up to that time endorsed them.
    • Not to be outdone, the Japanese Happy Science sect has done the same, adding in interviews with "guardian spirits" from various political and cultural figures.
  • Charlie Chaplin's Little Tramp was resurrected in The '80s for a series of adverts for IBM.

  • The Simpsons:
    • This is actually the driving plot point for the "How to Get Ahead in Dead-Vertising" segment of "Treehouse of Horror XIX". Homer gets a job killing celebrities (such as George Clooney, Prince, and Neil Armstrong) for corporations so they can use their likeness in advertisements (along with the likenesses of celebrities who have been long dead such as George Washington and Abraham Lincoln); when their spirits and those of other dead icons find out that they've been reduced to postmortem shills, they come after him.
    • Referenced when Krusty becomes an edgy stand-up comedian in "The Last Temptation of Krust" and briefly discusses the trope in a routine. "You've got poor old Vincent Price floating around in a toilet keg telling me about the horrors of an unfresh bowl!"
  • In Deus Ex, Jesus is seen on a billboard advertising a brand of cigarettes: Holy Smokes! (Apparently, "They're saviorific!")
  • In Thane's loyalty mission in Mass Effect 2, you learn that a two-bit criminal has been selling buggy illegal VIs of Shepard while the latter was dead (s/he got better). You can convince him to give Shepard a copy or a cut of the profits.
    • Shepard can also give his/her endorsements to various (even claiming every one of them is his/her favorite) stores in the Citadel, making him/her a literal example of this trope.
    • The Alliance themselves got in on the action using Shepard's likeness to advertise joining their military, however, it apparently fell through by the time Shep came back.
  • Near the end of the "Year of the Bastard" arc in Transmetropolitan, the late beloved Senator Longmarch's image and voice are used in a political ad endorsing would-be candidate Gary Callahan; Spider remarks that the nomination must be in the bag already for them to be stooping to such tactics without fear of backlash.
  • In "Mike Tyson Grill," a MadTV parody of the George Foreman Grill, Abraham Lincoln advertises the grill, though it's actually the same guy who is playing Mike Tyson dressed up as Lincoln.
  • In chargesdotcomdotbr, there's an animation of Steve Jobs recording commercials before his death to be used after it. It was a Take That! to the fact Apple products tend to be more compact than previous models.
  • Mulberry provides a literal example when they reveal that the then-latest Orville Redenbacher commercials star a zombie!Reddenbacher (sic).
  • Briefly touched upon in this Zeerust-y article about The Muppets, made in celebration of the day Marty goes into the future and set in an alternate 2015, where the old Royal Crown Cola Muppet birds are set to be voiced by Jim Henson "using the latest computer-generated voice technology" and "in a way that is state-of-the-art and not at all creepy" as part of their resurrection for a new Royal Crown campaign.
  • The Colonel Sanders example is parodied in the What A Cartoon! Show short "Podunk Possum in: One Step Beyond", where the protagonist is harassed by a character on a fast-food commercial who is also a ghost.
    Podunk Possum: I don't want fried chicken, I like eggs! And why are you so mean?
    Colonel: 'Cause I'm dead!
  • Happens in Ratatouille with Chef Skinner using the late Gusteau's image to sell many frozen foods, just changing his outfit to match whatever stereotype fits the food he is selling.
  • It's said that Sarah Lynn's mom exploits her daughter's death for this purpose in BoJack Horseman. Sarah Lynn's music appears in a GEICO commercial and she appears on a billboard proclaiming, "I'd die for a Pepsi!"


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