Jackie Chan: An advertiser's worst enemy

Jackie Chan movies, advertisementsAs a kung fu comedy master, Jackie Chan kicks box-office butt. As a pitchman, he's more likely to deliver a death blow to the products he advertises.

The Rush Hour and Karate Kid star has been skewered by the Chinese press for being the most dangerous celebrity spokesperson in the world, "a man who can destroy anything," the Oriental Guardian was quoted saying in the Los Angeles Times.

Give the Chinese a black belt in observation for bringing to light what they call the "Jackie Chan Curse." Chan's list of endorsement flops is growing at an incredible pace. Ba Wang, an anti-baldness shampoo (see video) Chan hawked, was rumored to include cancer-causing ingredients, causing the company's stock to plummet. Sales of an air conditioner he promoted chilled when a report emerged that one of the units exploded.

The ad-gone-bad routine goes deeper. When Chan backed an auto repair school, a diploma scandal hit. When he put his brand behind a CD manufacturer, the company went broke and its manager got thrown in jail for fraud. Even soda and an educational computer called the Subor Learning Machine weren't safe from the curse -- they went belly up.

Pundits in the story posit that Chan has so many stumbles because he takes on so many endorsements. (Here in the U.S. he has appeared in Hanes, Visa and Pepsi commercials.) Some are bound to crash. Despite his apparent anti-Midas touch, he has at least a dozen advertising gigs at the moment, including a recent deal with Canon China which is selling a Jackie Chan-branded Rebel T2i camera.

Perhaps growing up poor made him such a shill-seeker. Poverty can make a guy feel there is never enough money, even someone whose Rush Hour trilogy has earned him eight-figure paychecks and the studio more than $500 million in the U.S. alone. He's sensitive about money matters. He once told me in an interview that he was so nervous about box office returns that he had assistants tell him the news. "I'm always hiding,'' he said. "I try to escape the truth.''

Chan's spokesman slump evoked the likes of Kobe Bryant and Tiger Woods, whose extramarital escapades sank many of their advertising gigs. Some folks forget that Chan's image was not always squeaky clean, either. When the media confronted him about his adultery several years ago, he fumed about the invasion of privacy. "It doesn't matter," he told me. "Everyone has affairs."

The Hong Kong-born Chan, now 56, and the Chinese press have often been at odds, so the latter's scrutiny of the former's commercial track record isn't surprising. It probably won't hurt Chan's knack for finding products to pitch, though. What company wouldn't want to be the one to break the Jackie Chan Curse?
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