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"You celebrities need to realize that the public owns you for life! And after you're dead, you'll all be in commercials dancing with vacuum cleaners."
Homer Simpson, The Simpsons

There was a point when the Uncanny Valley was theoretical. Today, we have proof. Horrible, horrible proof. Computers have given producers incredible abilities to manipulate images and create breathtaking effects for film and television audiences. However this power has a very controversial dark side.

Famous but long dead celebrities have been digitally resurrected to lend their endorsements to numerous commercial products. Photographs or scenes from their filmed appearances are digitally processed to show them interacting with various products or people hawking those products. These appearances aren't limited to film and TV stars. Historical figures have given their digital support to numerous products and services as well.

The use of dead celebrities' images has diminished over the past decade, especially in North America. This is in part due to the public's growing distaste for the trend, but another influence has been the implementation of inconsistent personality right laws across the continent that leave advertisers unsure as to whether they need to obtain expensive permission from a dead celebrity's estate to use the deceased's image. Twelve states (and Quebec in Canada) have laws on the books that prohibit the unauthorized use of such images, but the length of time these rights exist after death varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and in most states the use of an image in a "work of art" is excluded - but in most cases nobody has defined whether advertisements are works of art. It's easier just to hire a double.

A variation of this is to use historical footage of said celebrities from when they were still alive.

Examples of The Dead Rise to Advertise include:


Advertising

  "Hello, I'm an abomination against nature, and I'm here to give you a heart attack."

  • Elvis Presley appeared in a mid-90's Pizza Hut commercial.
  • Audrey Hepburn advertised for the Gap in 2006 after a 13-year dirt nap.
  • Nando's South Africa has recently produced a somewhat tearjerking advert featuring Mugabe and several of his deceased friends.
  • A variation: When Yul Brynner learned he was dying of lung cancer, he filmed this PSA, to be shown after his death.
  • Justified in Schneider's adverts, in which actual footage of Mr. Schneider himself is used.
  • Inverted in an ad for a charity campaign, in which a regular guy asked for money for some cause and ended saying "Or would you only help us if she asked you?" while holding a mask of Princess Di up to his face.
  • The use of actors playing dead US presidents is a long tradition in US advertising, especially in February around President's Day. Now, CGI presidents are becoming common.
  • A British ad campaign featured real footage of Edith Piaf singing "Je ne regrette rien." Instead of an accurate translation, the subtitles claimed she's singing that there's actually one thing she does regret- she could have got cheap glasses from Specsavers.
  • A 2009 commercial for the charity One Laptop Per Child took the phenomenon in a new direction, not only using John Lennon's image, but digitally manipulating his voice to create an original statement. Remember when that was a farfetched plot device in season 2 of 24? Science Marches On.
  • Marilyn Monroe was also used in the Dior J'adore Perfume Commercial, along with Marlene Dietrich and Grace Kelly. Dietrich and Kelly look fine, but Monroe falls hard into the Uncanny Valley.
  • When Jeff Wayne revived his Rock Opera of The War of the Worlds as a stage production in the late 2000s, a holographic image of the late Sir Richard Burton, who played the Journalist on the album, was projected onstage to narrate. An actor with a similar facial structure was recruited to lip-sync the part, with Burton's image superimposed over his movements.
  • After Jim Varney died, Cerritos Auto Square faced some local controversy when they revived their Ernest P. Worrell commercials starting on the day of Varney's death. It was later found that they did this as a favor to his family, as Varney had always been fond of his work in those commercials.
  • Older Than Radio: There was an advertising campaign in the nineteenth century with a poster featuring Tutankhamen climbing out of his coffin and offering a bewildered lady and gentleman the all-curing Mummy Powder.
  • A 2000 commercial for the U.S. Sacajawea dollar coin had George Washington (who was green, like on the dollar bill) promoting it, saying it was just as good as the dollar bill.
  • DirecTV have been running a series of ads combining edited pieces of old films with new footage of an actor from the film (Christopher Lloyd endorsing it dressed as Doc Brown combined with footage of the DeLorean, for instance). Controversially, a couple of these ads have also involved editing in dead co-stars: First Craig T. Nelson did one interacting with footage of the late Heather O'Rourke from Poltergeist, then David Spade did the same with footage of Chris Farley taken from Tommy Boy.
  • Harland "Colonel" Sanders (1890 - 1980) would eventually be animated as a dancing mascot voiced by Randy Quaid to continue selling Kentucky Fried Chicken. This is somewhat Lampshaded in the What a Cartoon Show short, "Podunk Possum". Where the protagonist is harassed by a character on a fast food commercial, who is also a ghost!
    • There was another commercial aired in the early 90s. We see a man in a Col Sanders suit (the camera never shows his face) as he looks through some papers in a 50s era kitchen and grumbles about not being able to find a certain recipe. We then pan to a piece of paper stuck behind the table and the words "To be continued...". After a few weeks the second half of the commercial is shown, in which a modern day KFC employee is in the kitchen - now a museum - and finds the paper which allegedly is the Colonel's recipe for grilled chicken.
  • This Greenpeace ad features a CGI-animated John F Kennedy complete with robotic voice talking about global warming. Dead President + Creepy Monotone + bad lipsyncing = Nightmare Fuel.
  • Averted with Dave Thomas, founder and CEO of Wendy's, who starred in countless commercials for his fast-food chain. After his death, all commercials featuring him were pulled and there has been no attempt to reuse old footage or his image in new advertising. His daughter, after whom the restaurant chain is named, has basically replaced him as pitchman.
  • Also averted with Billy Mays; his commercials have slowly been phased out, or manipulated to feature different salespeople in his place for full-body shots.
    • A recent one shows the beginning of a Mays commercial, then switches to a different spokesperson with the Mays ad inset into the background, and the new spokesperson uses the fact that Mays used to advertise it as a selling point for the product.
      • However, the spokeperson, Anthony Sullivan, was a close friend of Billy Mays. If anyone was going to advertise Oxy-Clean, it should be him.
  • Nike created a stir by broadcasting an ad in which the voice of Tiger Woods's dead father, Earl Woods, seemingly chastises him for his infidelities. The audio came from a 2004 documentary, and Earl Woods is actually talking about differences between himself and his wife/Tiger's mother.
  • A political advertisement used the Historical Footage variation, starting with John F Kennedy giving a political speech, and a modern-day politician finishing the same speech.
  • This car commercial features a lot of historical (mostly communist) revolutionaries. (Including Fidel Castro, who isn't even dead yet!)
  • A one third example: During The World Cup 2010, a German Volkswagen ad featured the football players Fritz Walter, Paul Breitner and Rudi Völler in form of manipulated footage from the the era when the respective player's team did win the cup. Breitner and Völler are still alive, but Walter deceased in 2002.
  • Braun made a 1996 commercial starring Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton, and it was a relative cinch, since they took footage from an episode in which they're already shilling a kitchen tool. (Art "Ed" Carney was still alive then, and in fact even recorded a few ADR lines for the ad; Jackie "Ralph" Gleason, not so much.)
  • In 2010 a Chinese lingerie company put up a series of billboards featuring the late Princess Diana clad in their undies. On the 13th anniversary of her death, no less.
  • During the 2011 American version of X Factor, Pepsi debuted an ad featuring footage of Ray Charles and Michael Jackson. However, it was not digitally altered; it was actual footage of commercials they made for the soft drink.
  • The Japanese made Freddie Mercury sound like he was born to eat Cup Noodles.


Other

  • Guitar Hero World Tour features Jimi Hendrix as a playable character. Unlike the other playable versions of real musicians (Zakk Wylde, Ozzy Osbourne, Sting, et. al.), who were personally digitized and mo-capped for the sake of authenticity, Jimi was presumably recreated from photos and mo-capped by a professional impersonator.
    • Also, in Guitar Hero 5, Johnny Cash and Kurt Cobain are playable characters, both who were mo-capped by impersonators. Much hilarity (of the wrong kind), Fan Dumb-raging and Courtney Love pissing-off ensued when it turned out that those two could be used in any song.
      • Some fans of Kurt and Nirvana find this hilarious and think that he would have also. If he was alive today, it's likely that upon finding out that he could be him in the game singing a Bon Jovi song, he would have proceeded to do so while singing the track screechy and off key as he often did when covering short blips of songs for comedic effect.
      • Another creepy element here is that the two perform in modern venues, including one in Times Square ringing in the 2008 New Year.
    • The Beatles: Rock Band features the two dead Beatles, John Lennon and George Harrison, although the game would be epic bullcrap if it didn't. Lego Rock Band also features the likenesses of the band Queen as Lego avatars, including the late Freddie Mercury, although having him appear in adorable Lego form is a lot less insensitive.
  • The Canadian audio comedy group Radio Free Vestibule did a skit in 1995 called "Laurence Olivier for Diet Coke", which purported to be an ad for Diet Coke assembled by splicing together things Laurence Olivier said in his many films and interviews. ("I wish I could have some now. But I can't, because I'm dead!")


Fictional

  • This is actually the driving plot point for one of the segments of The Simpsons 2008 Halloween Episode. Homer gets a job killing celebrities for corporations so they can use their likeness in advertisements; when their spirits and those of other dead icons find out that they've been reduced to postmortem shills, they come after him.
  • In Deus Ex, Jesus is seen on a billboard advertising a brand of cigarettes: Holy Smokes! (Apparently, "They're saviorific!")
  • In Thane's loyalty mission in Mass Effect 2, you learn that a two-bit criminal has been selling buggy illegal VIs of Shepard while the latter was dead (s/he got better). You can convince him to give Shepard a copy or a cut of the profits.
    • Shepard can also give his/her endorsements to various (even claiming every one of them is his/her favorite) stores in the Citadel, making him/her a literal example of this trope.
  • Near the end of the "Year of the Bastard" arc in Transmetropolitan, the late beloved Senator Longmarch's image and voice are used in a political ad endorsing would-be candidate Gary Callahan; Spider remarks that the nomination must be in the bag already for them to be stooping to such tactics without fear of backlash.
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