After the death of a salesman, what happens to the ad campaign?

Bruce Watson

As the direct-marketing industry copes with the sudden death of pitchman Billy Mays, it's worth considering the fragile relationship between celebrity endorsement and death. In Mays's case, his premature departure should probably have minimal effect on OxiClean and Orange Glo. Similarly, with gold prices high and credit ratings low, chances are that Cash 4 Gold and FreeCreditReport.com will keep chugging along, even without recent spokesman Ed McMahon.

Unexpected deaths happen periodically. The passing of New York Yankees catcher Thurman Munson (pictured) -- in a plane crash, 30 years ago this summer -- didn't seem to harm the long-term sales of Williams' 'Lectric Shave. But for some companies, the death of a salesman is a tough blow.The demise of Wendy's founder Dave Thomas was devastating to the fast-food company. Thomas's homey, friendly ads put a face on Wendy's for millions of customers, and the chain has cycled through a series of "Mr. Wendy" spots and animated commercials but still has not found a suitable replacement.