The science of selecting a celebrity from the worlds of sports and entertainment as the face of a company or product is anything but: Some of the most unlikely figures have proven to be incredibly successful while others who would seem to have all the qualities needed end up falling flat on their faces. Art maybe, but definitely not science.
So it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that two of the biggest celebrity endorsers out there are a one-time basketball superstar who was as fierce a competitor as existed and one of the OGs of the early hip-hop music movement who is equally well known for his choices in recreational pharmaceuticals as he is for hit records.
Which begs the question: who is more popular — and successful — in the unlikely race between Shaquille O’Neal and Snoop Dogg?
Perhaps just as importantly — maybe even more — is no matter who is the bigger endorsement star, what does it say about the state of modern American marketing that the stars with these kinds of pedigrees can rise above the rest and become so in demand?
Of course, using public figures to endorse products isn’t anything new. Child movie stars Shirley Temple and Jane Withers were licensing out their likenesses back in the 1930’s Depression era. Movie actors from George Burns to George Clooney have all lent their name in pursuit of commercialism and sports stars have been gracing Wheaties boxes since Lou Gehrig was the first to do so in 1934. The unlikely pairing of over-the-hill boxer George Foreman and a certain countertop cooking grill resulted in the best-selling kitchen appliance in housewares history.
But not all of these match-ups have worked out quite as the dealmakers had hoped. James Garner seemed like the perfect pitchman for the beef industry, that is until he had a heart attack, no doubt a sign perhaps of his diet. And the sports business is littered with bad choices: In the early days of professional baseball, star Pittsburgh Pirate infielder Honus Wagner turned up on a playing card sponsored by a tobacco company. Wager, a devout anti-smoker, demanded they take him off after just a few cards were distributed, satisfying him but also creating one of the most valuable sports collectibles in history.
And we really don’t need to talk about OJ Simpson and Hertz, do we?
Still, the widespread appeals of O’Neal and Snoop do come as a bit of surprise as these things go. Even before he retired in 2011 Shaq had lent his name to signature sneakers a few times — fairly standard for NBA stars — but since then he has taken it up to heights that make his dunking proclivity pale by comparison. In the decade since leaving the game he has worked with a veritable who’s who of the consumer product world: Kraft, Pepsi, Arizona Tea, Burger King, Comcast
Celebrity Net Worth, a website that tracks such things, estimates that O’Neal’s net worth is some $400 million…and counting.
By contrast, Snoop Dogg — some of us remember when he went by the full name Snoop Doggy Dogg — is estimated to be worth a more modest $150 million, ranking 11th on WealthyGorilla.com’s list of the world’s richest rappers. His roster leans decidedly more towards the decadent side of the product mix, with current deals for Corona beer and any number of marijuana and CBD endeavors. Perhaps most strikingly is his tie-in with none other than Martha Stewart on several endorsements and if you were ever looking for the textbook definition of “cognitive dissonance” it would be hard to find a better example.
So while Shaq clearly is taking in more cash than Snoop, you’d really have to handicap this a bit: Snoop has been convicted of both cocaine and gun possession and was arrested for murder in the 1990s even as was proved innocent of the crime in 1996. He did spend some time in jail though as some people revel in pointing out, Stewart spent more time in the slammer for her stock trading crime.
Not that Snoop hides from any of this, mind you. In a recent interview with the New York Times
By contrast, Shaq’s biggest offense might be the fact that he has the fifth worst free-throw record of any major player in NBA history and over the course of his career he made exactly one three-point play. Then again, just like Snoop he has recorded a number of records, including one that went platinum. One critic called him the greatest rap singer in NBA history, which may or may not be a big achievement considering the competition.
Shaq or Snoop: Each has achieved far more in the celebrity endorsement business than anyone might have ever predicted. America continues to believe in some of the most unlikely promoters out there. We even elect some of them.