For Four Decades, Brands Have Loved Astronaut Jim Lovell

Some celebrities sell shoes and perfume. This one can sell anything

Headshot of Robert Klara

According to recent studies, someone who looks at a piece of advertising these days stands nearly a one-in-five chance of seeing a celebrity. Music, sports and film star brand endorsements are worth over $1 billion a year nowadays, and little wonder why. With their seven- and eight-figure Twitter followings, top celebrities represent enormous influence.

This ad appeared in national magazines only four years after

the country sat glued to its TV sets, praying for the Apollo 13

astronauts to make it home. So when Mutual Benefit talked

about things like the value of security and the importance of

experience, Lovell was the perfect fit.

And also, sometimes, enormous risk. As the cases of Tiger Woods and Oscar Pistorius have proven, there’s nothing to prevent a million-dollar star from sinking into scandal and taking a brand’s image with it. What’s more, the very notion of celebrity becomes more watered-down all the time. Just ask Evan Morgenstein, president and CEO of branding firm CelebExperts. “I deal with this all day long,” Morgenstein said. “Celebrity could mean Honey Boo Boo or any boo boo—it doesn’t matter anymore. Anybody can be a celebrity.”

Fortunately for brands, the ever-expanding celebrity class does include a coterie of people who’ve managed, somehow, to remain not just untarnished, but timeless.

Like Jim Lovell, for example.

Sure, Justin Bieber sings and plays the guitar. Miley Cyrus looks good in a thong. But Eagle Scout, Navy test pilot, astronaut and Presidential Medal for Freedom recipient Jim Lovell has, you might say, more important talents. Like being on Earth’s maiden voyage to the moon and serving as captain of the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission—in which he piloted a stricken ship back to Earth and saved two men’s lives in the process. “Jim Lovell is a true American icon, a hero—and those are hard to come by,” Morgenstein said.

Credentials like that can confer credibility to nearly any brand—be it Mutual Benefit insurance (which Lovell endorsed in this 1974 ad) or Cole Haan athletic shoes (which Lovell is sporting today at age 86). As Morgenstein explained, a background as admirable as Lovell’s transcends questions of a celebrity’s qualifications to pitch a brand. Lovell holds all the cards: You trust him, so he can sell insurance, and he still looks great—so he can sell those sneakers, too.

The truth is, he probably had to. While Lovell earned the record for hours spent in space (a shade over 715), he didn’t earn more than his government salary—and he retired in 1973. Lovell took a series of private-sector jobs and began endorsing, too.

‘Jim Lovell is a true American icon, a hero—and those are hard to come by.’ | Evan Morgenstein, president/CEO, CelebExperts

But unlike other famous-if-faded celebs whose pitching was painful to watch (Dionne Warwick’s Psychic Friends Network comes to mind), even ad duty didn’t diminish Lovell’s image—shiny as a space capsule, with the altitude to match. Perhaps that’s why Cole Haan put him in those foil sneaks.

“A guy like Lovell represents the past and has enough credibility that he can rock those shoes and bring us into the 21st century,” Morgenstein said. “He’s an old man. If you meet him, you call him ‘sir.’”

 The traditional difficulty with older celebs—they get round and look haggard—is not a problem with Lovell. “He looks like you could put him in a capsule today and shoot him into space,” Morgenstein said. “And he’d be laughing the whole way up.”

 In an admirable gesture of brand matching, Cole Haan set Lovell up with a pair of Silver LunarGrand Long Wingtips. They listed for $268, but Lovell makes them look priceless.

 For the benefit of those who might not have heard of him, both brands have captioned Lovell’s claim to fame—impressive stuff, even in its brevity. Astronaut. Commander. “How many people can you describe in one word?” Morgenstein asked.

@UpperEastRob Robert Klara is a senior editor, brands at Adweek, where he specializes in covering the evolution and impact of brands.