Canada·Analysis

He was the Greatest for advertising as well

The world knew Muhammad Ali as a boxer, activist, pacifist and entertainer. As CBC Ad Guy Bruce Chambers remembers, he was also a major figure in product endorsement.

Muhammad Ali's image has sold many products and will continue to, says CBC Ad Guy

Muhammad Ali faces off against himself in a Porsche ad. Ali's fame made him a major figure in product endorsement. (Porsche/YouTube)

The world knew Muhammad Ali — who died June 3 — as a boxer, activist, pacifist and entertainer.

But he was also a major figure in product endorsement.

Ali endorsed Chevrolet, Under Armour, Pizza Hut, Adidas, Wheaties, Coke, Gatorade and Toyota.

And in a current ad, we see a young Muhammad Ali in the ring against Muhammad Ali.

Special effects allow us to see Ali fighting himself to make the point that only the Porsche 911 can beat a Porsche 911.

Ali's endorsement career didn't start quite so grandly. Back in 1976, he sold his image to a toy company.

Then there was a 1979 ad that saw the champion endorsing a cockroach-killing insecticide.

After he retired from the ring in 1981, most of Ali's income came from his endorsement company GOAT, an acronym for Greatest Of All Time. After earning between $4 million and $7 million a year from the company, Ali sold 80 per cent of it in 2006 for $50 million.

That year, he appeared in a peculiar ad for IBM. In it, we see a depressed-looking, pale little boy watching classic Ali footage on a monitor.

Then the boy is joined by the man himself, who urges him to "shake up the world." The kid smiles, and we see the IBM logo.

Such was Ali's universal appeal that his image had been used to promote IBM's competitor Apple just a few years earlier.

In 2012, Ali signed a deal with Louis Vuitton, which involved contemporary photos of the man in magazine ads, as well as a short tribute film of spoken word poetry.

Muhammad Ali may be gone. But like Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Einstein and Mandela, he will always be one of the world's great influencers and motivators.

Therefore, his words and image will inevitably live forever… in advertising. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bruce began his career writing radio commercials for stations in Red Deer, Calgary and Toronto. Then in-house at a national department store, and then ad agencies with campaigns for major national and regional clients. For the past couple of decades, he's been a freelance creative director and copywriter for agencies in Calgary and Victoria. He began his weekly Ad Guy columns on CBC Radio in 2003.

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