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The President’s Man

Bill Cosby—first recipient of the hall’s President’s award—talks about his place in advertising history.
  • April 15 2011

While many granted entrance into the Advertising Hall of Fame are legends in their field, one new honoree is an out-and-out legend.

Sure, Bill Cosby may be most revered for his work on The Cosby Show or Fat Albert or even just as a comedian. But through his career, he’s made a huge impact being the face for brands such as Jell-O Pudding, Coca- Cola, Crest toothpaste, and many other products.

As such, Cosby is the inaugural recipient of the Advertising Hall of Fame’s President’s Award.

Here, Cosby reflects on his life as an ad man.

On his start in advertising in the 1960s: My first commercial was for White Owl—a cigar. I called the White Owl people. And I said I’d like to do the commercial. And I did it. 

On the importance the advertising industry has had on his career: Very, very important. Commercials run anytime and on any channel. So this image, this Bill Cosby person, this hawker of merchandise, is all over the place. People are seeing my picture whether they turned on my TV show or not. For instance, today, 2011, I can walk out and get a laugh, a laugh from my paid audience of 2,500 people just by—at any time—dropping in the words, “Jell-O Pudding.”

On his greatest asset as a pitch-man: I think my believability as a story teller. I had established myself as a funny guy and I had been on The Tonight Show and different talk shows, etc. And the way I would act out the dialogue. With the different brands, there was always some sense of humor, and quirkiness, without it being at the expense of someone.

On advertising as an agent of social change: Many times, commercials have been ahead of the culture and have really been able to push it—putting the images out there or making the change. But then again, advertising has also sometimes been behind the times. For example: throwing out the all-too-sassy and all-too-head-wobbling female.

On who the real pioneers are when it comes to desegregating commercials: The pioneering factor goes to the people who said yes. You see, we stand ready to serve. So whoever was there at White Owl—and they had to have had the meeting—“Listen there’s this black guy, he’s a comedian, he’s a very funny guy. And he’s saying he would love to say the White Owl theme.” They happen to be the pioneers. Those people who went up against—for sure—naysayers, who said, you know, I don’t think the United States, or the South or whatever, is ready for this. They’re the ones who had to decide if it was “the time.” What I’m doing is tipping my hat to the white people because they are very, very important.

On the most groundbreaking commercial: I think one of the greatest commercials ever made, with a black person in it, was the Coke commercial with the little white kid and Mean Joe Green in the jersey. In that short amount of time the story that was told was absolutely fantastic.

On the significance of receiving the hall of Fame’s President’s award: When I receive my award, it’s coming from almost, almost the beginning of the African American male being accepted as a spokesperson.