When gearing up for the Super Bowl — not to mention the protracted start of the NBA season — it’s fun to take a look at the book Endorsements in Advertising: A Social History, which makes the case that athletes are the single best spokespeople for everything from undershirts to beer (er, maybe those two things aren’t so far apart). The phenomenon is so widespread that the World Health Organization recently published study results stating that "Parents buy bad food if athletes endorse it." Using their power to hawk junk food is obviously not ideal, but the point remains that sports stars are gifted.
Michael Jordan remains the gold standard, considered by social scientists as the greatest endorser of the 20th century; in his heyday, he netted $20 million annually from Nike alone. When students at the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University studied Tiger Woods’ pre-scandal impact on the sales of Nike’s golf balls, they found it tremendous, but even then Tiger was no Mike. That said, LeBron James’ endorsement deals (including contracts with Coca-Cola and McDonald's) are currently estimated at $33 million a year.
And although a few companies have made some truly regrettable spokes-athlete decisions (see The Daily Meal's list of 15 sports endorsements fails), many of the endorsements have actually set advertising standards for their poignancy, wit, and innovation. Here is our list of the 12 best athlete-driven food and drink endorsement ads of all time.