Eleanor Roosevelt Hawking Margarine (Because That Woman Had Bread)

“Viewers have a way of remembering the celebrity while forgetting the product. I did not know this when I paid Eleanor Roosevelt $35,000 to make a commercial for margarine. She reported that her mail was equally divided. ‘One half was sad because I had damaged my reputation. The other half was happy because I had damaged my reputation.’ Not one of my proudest memories.”

— from Ogilvy on Advertising by David Ogilvy, the “father of advertising” and allegedly the basis for Don Draper in Mad Men

Found via the delightfully titled blog, Gay Eleanor Roosevelt. Long before #FitTea Instagram hotties and QVC celebrity capsules, a very different breed of influencer roamed the hallowed halls of paid endorsements. Here former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt extolls the virtues of Good Luck Margarine on her toast. The patronizing V.O. then intones that margarine”Leaves no oily aftertaste.” Imagine, butter without consequence!

According the refreshingly researched article, “Why a First Lady Cashed In” (2012) by Carl Anthony, ol’ Auntie Eleanor, champion of the poor and marginalized, resigned from civic service  in 1953 under the conservative Eisenhower Administration and need cash, like any average person. In addition to margarine, she hawked watches, mattresses, and hearing aids. Eleanor was the ideal spokeswoman for margarine, which carried a stigma for being ghetto; only respectable people ate butter! But Mrs. Roosevelt, in her refined Mid-Atlantic accent, elevated margarine (owned by Jergens, the lotion company, oddly enough) to a posh foodstuff. She made $35k off the shout out and the public was outraged, however, she had a classy reply: “With the amount of money I am to be paid I can save over six thousand lives. I don’t value my dignity that highly.” Not to mention, it was quite a significant chunk of change for a woman who annually earned only $2k for endorsements. I highly recommend you read the aforementioned article in full as it’s chockfull of fascinating tidbits at the intersection of the media and politics during the mid-century. Plus not to mention, the author throws some shade at her haters:

And somehow, Mrs. Roosevelt pontificating about the virtues of a mattress company on the radio or in print advertisement shocked people – whereas those running for political office and soliciting funds for their campaigns from thousand of corporate entities did not.

And this was in the 1950s!


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