The dancer as brand ambassador, then and now

“So famous she has no time to eat”.

Could the ballerina, Alicia Markova really have given her blessing to an advertisement caption for Cadburys chocolate?

The copywriter’s words are ridiculous.

No dancer could spend her entire day and evening at the theatre, rehearsing and performing, too busy for “a substantial meal” but sustaining herself with chocolate.

Well, it was 1938 when some ad agencies believed that readers, in search of a ballet body, could be fooled by nonsense.

Pavlova was not immune from eager copywriters either.

Her name and image was used for Adams Black Jack chewing gum.

Irina Baronova was a brand ambassador for Paul Duval Personalised Cosmetics and found her name on an ad for De Reszke cigarettes, the brand for people who must stay “fit and well”.

During the 1947/9 Ballet Rambert tour to Australia, the smiling face of the ballerina Sally Gilmour dominates a print ad for Small’s Club Chocolate

In a 1940 magazine published by J C Williamson – the firm that presented the Ballets Russes’ tours in Australia – I recently found another brand ambassador, Colonel de Basil.

The JCW Magazine shows de Basil “taking delivery” of a Pontiac Chieftain in Sydney, a gift or (or less likely a purchase) that would be tricky to take to New York when he had to leave Australia in a hurry before the end of the tour.

Maybe he drove the Pontiac only in Sydney or maybe it was a gift from J C Williamson

If so, the firm clearly didn’t know that de Basil was known for his reckless driving.

No dancer today would endorse chocolates, cigarettes, gum and mink coats but dance celebrities still promote underwear and yoghurt (Misty Copeland), clothes (Sergei Polunin), scent (Benjamin Millepied), Quaker Oats (Darcey Bussell) and No7 Lift & Luminate Triple Action Serum (Alessandra Ferri).

Using dancers as brand ambassadors is an old marketing game but there’s a difference between the way dancers were used in early decades of the 20th century and the way they are now.

In the 1920s to ‘50s, the dancers may have had limited control of the way they were portrayed although they must have been paid either in money or in kind (gifts of all descriptions and certainly not parcels of gums and chocolate) but today, dancers who appear in ads are in complete control.

Copeland, Millepied, Polunin and Bussell don’t hide from the limelight. They are brands in themselves.

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Alica Markova, Cadburys Milk Chocolate ad, Daily Express 1938

Sally Gilmour, Rambert Ballet, Small’s Club Chocolate, 1948

Irina Baronova, De Reszke cigarettes

Colonel de Basil takes delivery of Pontiac Chieftan

Martha Graham, Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn, “Blackglama mink…What becomes a legend”

Anna Pavlova endorses Licorice Gum

Alessandra Ferri, No. 7 Lift and Illuminate serum

Darcey Bussell, Quaker Oats ad