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The Product and the Promise

Since the nineteenth century, famous figures have been used for product advertising, and such testimonials increased dramatically in the 1920s. As the president of the J. Walter Thompson advertising firm pointed out, there was ample evidence that people wanted their “news, education, and entertainment conveyed . . . through the medium of personalities.” When celebrity endorsement was enlarged from page to poster size, the effect could be dramatic.

Photographic celebrity portraits were the key component for an enormously successful advertising campaign for Blackglama mink coats. Launched in 1968, the stark black-and-white posters featured Richard Avedon’s photographs of recognizable stars, each garbed in her choice of coat. Not only did the intersection of photography, celebrity, luxury, and glamour serve the purpose of commerce, it also produced collectible art: a high-style version of the personality poster. After Blackglama’s success, advertisers increasingly tapped celebrities for their campaigns.

    Poster image  
Click to enlarge image Smash All Records
Harold Doolittle, James G. Haizlip
Unidentified artist, 1932
Color lithographic poster with halftone
87.2 x 151.2 cm (34 5/16 x 59 1/2 in.)
National Portrait Gallery
      Click to enlarge image Woodbury Matched Make-Up
Veronica Lake
Unidentified artist, c. 1945
Color photolithographic halftone poster stand-up
108 x 75.9 cm (42 1/2 x 29 7/8 in.)
National Portrait Gallery
  Poster image   Poster image    
  Click to enlarge image What becomes a Legend most?
Judy Garland
Richard Avedon, 1968
Photolithographic halftone poster
70.3 x 55.2 cm (27 11/16 x 21 3/4 in.)
National Portrait Gallery
© Richard Avedon
© American Legend Cooperative
  Click to enlarge image What becomes a Legend most?
Shirley MacLaine
Bill King, 1977
Photolithographic halftone poster
70.5 x 55.2 cm (27 3/4 x 21 3/4 in.)
National Portrait Gallery; gift of Poster America
© Bill King
© American Legend Cooperative
  Poster image   Lance Armstrong poster    
  Click to enlarge image Milk/What a Surprise!
Pete Sampras
Annie Leibovitz, 1995
Color photolithographic poster
80.5 x 59.5 cm (31 11/16 x 23 7/16 in.)
National Portrait Gallery; gift of the Chisholm-Larsson Gallery
© 1995 National Fluid Milk Processor Promotion Board
© Annie Leibovitz
  Click to enlarge image Lance
Lance Armstrong
Michael Schwab,  2002
Color silkscreen poster
71.1 x 50.8 cm (28 x 20 in.)
National Portrait Gallery; gift of Michael Schwab


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