Celebrity finance: 7 A-listers and athletes endorsing their way into your wallet — and why not to trust them

The celebrity endorsement is as old as time — or since 1882, at least, when a glycerin soap producer enlisted stage actress Lillie Langtry to tell fans how much she preferred Pears “to all others.” Little could Langtry have known that her marketing moxie would kick off nearly 150 years of A-list advertising that’s led to today’s megawatt industry of beauty influencers.

But it’s no longer only soap, makeup and housewares they’re hawking. Today’s famous faces moonlight as financial influencers too, using their stardom in an attempt to entice you into buying crypto, investing in startups, swiping premium cards and more in exchange for big-bucks endorsement contracts in the millions.

Yet how much can we trust these stars even use the platforms, cards or policies they’re selling — or even know how they work? In short, we savvy consumers shouldn’t. Here’s our roundup of recent financial spokes-lebrities, and why you need a level head to see them as entertainment only.

1. Eminem — Crypto.com

Remember 2022, when Matt Damon was one of many celebrities like Tom Brady, Stephen Curry and Larry David who studded Super Bowl commercials touting cryptocurrency? In his own Super Bowl ad, Damon walks through sweeping montages, comparing crypto investors to Magellan and Sir Edmund Hillary (at least, we think that’s what it’s about).

When the Bitcoin bubble burst a year later, many learned the hard way that, contrary to Crypto.com’s tagline, fortune doesn’t always favor the brave. Plenty of big names last year faced scrutiny from the Securities and Exchange Commission for promoting Bitcoin et al. on social media and elsewhere without disclosing they were paid for it, including Lindsay Lohan and rapper Soulja Boy. (In 2022, Kim Kardashian settled charges to the tune of more than $1.2 million stemming from an alleged EthereumMax pump-and-dump scheme.)

And yet in the past month, with Bitcoin recovering to record highs, rapper Eminem revealed in a tweet of few words (“You know what it’s always been”) he’s the latest to collab with exchange Crypto.com. Starring in a bizarrely serious black-and-white ad spot featuring closeups of fist clenching, boxing training and ice baths, the real Slim Shady addresses in hazy hype language those who’ve been “ignored,” “dissed” and “mocked” (is that us?) to “enjoy this moment, one they said you’d never live to see.” So much drama — but, hey, at least this crypto celeb discloses it’s an #Ad.

You know what it’s always been. #FFTB #Ad @cryptocom pic.twitter.com/XZ3Qf7TkkR

— Marshall Mathers (@Eminem) April 26, 2024

2. Jay-Z, Alex Rodriguez, Serena Williams, Andre Agassi and too many others to count — SPACs

Even before celebrities and reality royalty graced the Crypto Bowl, they were leveraging their celebrity to raise cash for special purpose acquisition companies. Once banned as “blank check companies” in the U.S., these “SPACs” hit their peak of popularity in 2021 as a kind of backdoor IPO for companies looking to go public in record time.

Soon, celebrity after celebrity popped up to promote their own SPAC, including Jay-Z for cannabis-related Subversive Capital Acquisition, Alex Rodriguez for sports media company Slam Corp., Serena Williams for additive manufacturing tech company Jaws Spitfire, and Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf for Evolv Technology. Still others who put their fame behind SPACs were Peyton Manning, Shaq and the venerable Tony Hawk.

Hype for these risky investments prompted the SEC to issue a rare alert insisting that investors do their own research. And this year, the SEC adopted new rules that more explicitly require alternative IPOs to align with “time-tested investor protections,” in the words of SEC Chair Gary Gensler, including disclosing conflicts of interest and sponsor compensation. Which is why you aren’t likely to see new faces behind these otherwise unflashy investment products anytime soon.

3. Jennifer Garner — Capital One

America’s Sweetheart has had a decade-long dalliance with financial services company Capital One, most recently featured in a series of ads for the Capital One Venture X Business Card. In one TV spot, Jennifer coyly reveals that while “you might know me from my other job,” she’s actually a business owner. And who would question it, watching her tote a bushel basket of lush greens through furrowed farmland, polish a fresh-picked apple against her lapel and awkwardly enjoy an airport lounge with her fellow company founders?

It isn’t that Capital One Venture X is a bad card: It’s actually a decent product offering premium rewards and travel perks. It’s more that we’re expected to believe Venture X is the only way Jen can pay for the kitchen equipment that supports her business or gain access to luxurious lounging between travel legs — and not her $80 million net worth. Or estimated $15 million to $20 million Capital One contract.

4. Tom Selleck — American Advisors Group

It’s not the first time a famous mouthpiece has marketed reverse mortgages to older Americans — after all, Law & Order detective Lennie Briscoe and the Fonz (OK, Jerry Orbach and Henry Winkler) did it well before. But Tom Selleck’s reverse mortgages commercials for American Advisors Group are so ubiquitous, they’ve earned some ribbing on Family Guy.

It’s unconvincing that Selleck, an actor with an estimated net worth of $45 million, would be the type of senior to consider a reverse mortgage. And while it’s true that a home equity conversion mortgage — the most common type of reverse mortgage — “isn’t some kind of trick to take your home,” it isn’t a financial product that’s quite as simple as Tom’s selling. For one, you won’t get your home’s full value with this type of loan. And your heirs might need to sell your home to repay your loan if the market sours.

Borrower, and especially vulnerable older homeowners, beware.

5. Jon Hamm — Progressive

Jon Hamm’s hitched his post-Mad Men sponsorship wagon to everything from Apple TV+ and Mercedes-Benz to H&R Block, even a Canadian food-delivery service called SkipTheDishes.

But his most recent financial fooling around is with insurer Progressive, starring in three-part ad series as a longtime ex who still holds a flame for the brand’s upbeat advertising mascot Flo, played by comedian Stephanie Courtney. No stranger to comedy himself, Hamm deadpans through uncomfortable dinners and romcom clumsiness to woo Flo, who in the end has eyes only for helping people to save money by bundling their insurance policies.

Hamm’s Progressive promo is part of a genre of lighthearted insurance commercials that, let’s be honest, without Flo (or the LiMu emu, or the Geico gecko, or any other number of goofy sidekicks or plot devices) would be just another brand in a sea of insurers.

6. Rob Gronkowski — USAA

Twice-retired tight end Rob “Gronk” Gronkowski has slapped his name on so many bottles and boxes, it’s hard to keep count, including Gronk Flakes in 2012, Gronk’s Hot Sauce in 2015 and a signature “Gronk” Monster Energy drink in 2016. Today, he’s the first non-vet spokesperson for USAA, the highly rated provider of banking, insurance and investment services to members of the military and their families.

The thread running through USAA’s ad series is that the clueless Gronk will try anything to skirt USAA’s military exclusivity and score his own membership — among attempts, buttering up current USAA members, unsuccessfully faking out a USAA phone operator and polling his brothers for loopholes. But because he’s not an active servicemember, a vet or part of the extended military community, even a celebrated athlete like him simply isn’t eligible to join.

This series often ends up in r/CommercialsIHate for Gronk’s wooden acting and cheesy delivery, but it is a clever way to hammer home the brand’s commitment to its target audience.

7. Snoop Dogg — Klarna

Nothing’s more streets than … buy now, pay later service Klarna? And yet in 2019, veteran rapper Snoop Dogg joined forces with the Swedish fintech company as an investor and the face of Klarna’s then newest campaign. One quick, cool ad called the “Coronation” ends with Snoop slo-mo strutting to a candy-colored altar led by glorious Afghan hounds, walking past robed acolytes and removing from a marshmallow-pink Arc of the Covenant two blingy knuckle rings proclaiming “Smoooth Dogg,” a play on Klarna’s Get Smoooth campaign.

What does this have to do with short-term financing? Klarna’s PR says something about “trusted, frictionless and smoooth checkout experiences.” OK, sure. Then, it’s a step up from Snoop’s other ads around the same time for deceptive debt-relief companies. Mind on your money and your money on his mind …

3 honorable mentions

These brands don’t neatly fit into financial products, but they are finance adjacent (and, for the first, problematic) and so earn our commercial commendations.

1. Vanessa Hudgens — BetMGM

High School Musical alumna Vanessa Hudgens is the latest actor to convince us that online gambling is a ton of fun through a series of awkward ads designed to appeal to a younger audience of gamblers. As “brand ambassador” for sports betting and e-gambling app BetMGM, Vanessa in one ad plays the slots on her phone at a party, where she bumps into Jamie Foxx, who, luck would have it, is playing a table game in the app, their exuberance at winning confusing other partygoers. In another, she saunters in a slinky gown through gilded gambling rooms that evoke class and elegance, talking about “jackpots” and “games you won’t find anywhere else.”

All that’s debatable, of course. Like IRL casinos, online gambling is designed to take more money from you than it lets you win. And the growing popularity of online e-betting apps like BetMGM is developing a new generation of gambling addicts, with 1 in 10 college students identified as a pathological gambler. Not the most wholesome brand for a former Disney darling.

2. Ryan Reynolds — Mint Mobile

Oh, to have half the marketing genius of Ryan Reynolds. It isn’t acting alone that’s helped Mr. Blake Lively rack up a net worth of some $350M. Rather, Ryan at one time or another has owned a gin distillery (Aviation American Gin), a soccer club (Wrexham AFC) and an ad agency (Maximum Effort), among other companies.

And you might’ve guessed from what he gets away in his Mint Mobile ads that he’s also part owner of a wireless service. (In one, he pokes fun at marketing compliance by taking “explicit” disclosures into eff bomb–laden territory.)

Do we think Deadpool is dead serious when he tells us, “I also use Mint, and I love it”? No. But $15 a month is decent savings over other, bigger guys, with a free 7-day trial to boot. So less harm can come from it than other shills on this list.

3. Kaley Cuoco — Priceline

The Big Bang Theory’s Kaley Cuoco took on the marketing mantle for Priceline in 2013, introduced in an ad with fellow spokesperson William Shatner that same year as a changing of the guard.

As with the other celebrity shills on our list, it’s doubtful Kaley needs an online travel agency to plan her holiday getaways. Yet to her credit, she’s not trying to persuade us to buy something our budgets will be stuck with for years. Instead, she applies comedic skills to helping stressed-out travelers pay less to get to a “happy place” — something all of us could inevitably use.

Should you trust your finances to celebrity endorsements?

It’s unlikely that a celebrity of any stature needs the same type of financial products as the average consumer. (Ellen Degeneres once admitted she doesn’t even know her PIN.) The success of Jennifer Garner’s sweet side project is not owed to a particular credit card, and Eminem can spare some of his $250M net worth to gamble on digital assets.

Yet while the rest of us hold to the FTC’s truth-in-advertising guidelines, the fact is that celebrity sells. More than half of Gen Z — the generation most likely to use TikTok as a search engine — say they favor ads starring celebrities.

And so it’s wise to apply a lot of scrutiny to celebrity endorsements — especially when it comes to your money. The golden rule is to never make a financial investment based on a celebrity endorsement alone. If it’s a product, brand or service you’d be interested in without a celebrity telling you it’s great, apply a few additional levels of vigilance before signing up:

Look beyond the advertising. For any financial product, go directly to the issuer or another trusted source to read the fine print that affects your finances. Consider rates, fees and risks you’re taking on and whether you can manage them in the long term.

Check the registration status. For potentially risky products like investments or crypto, confirm the investment is registered with the SEC. You can confirm the status of sellers, advisers, insurers and more through Finra or your state securities regulator.

If you’re suspicious, report it. Submit concerns or complaints through the SEC’s online tip form. You can submit anonymously, if you wish, and the SEC is committed to protecting your identity to the strongest extent possible.

Talk with a trusted financial professional. If you’re not sure whether a product fits your long-term financial strategy, or even to trust it at all, don’t be afraid to seek the help of an advisor who can guide your next steps.

Bottom line: Celebrities should be trusted only for persuasive acting, scoring touchdowns or otherwise entertaining the masses — and not influencing the decisions we make with our finances. For many A-listers, product endorsements pad their pockets with millions of dollars more than acting or athleticism can alone. And they may not even know much about what they’re selling.

Apply the same caution and diligence you would to any financial decision before taking on a new product, brand or service a celebrity is hawking to better safeguard your hard-earned savings.

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