Alexander The Great, Aunt Jemima, Paul Newman, and Giada

An ancient conquerer of the entire “known world” looking for a way to certify authenticity, an african american slave born in 1834 in Montgomery County Kentucky, one of the most renowned character actors of the 20th century, and the Food Channel celebrity granddaughter of an Italian movie producer. All four share the fact that their images have been shown on, and their reputations have been used to certify the quality of, goods and services. But that’s where the similarity ends. They are of clearly different generations and it is interesting to consider how their brands have grown over time.

I recently came across Giada De Laurentiis’ new book, Giada’s Kitchen: New Italian Favorites, and it got me thinking about the role of celebrity and its use on packages. How did it start, how has it evolved, and where is it going? 

It certainly goes as far back as Alexander’s use of Seals with his image around 340BC, and there is evidence of this practice on the Cyclades in the 7th century BC. As Martin Henig notes in The Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece, “Their primary purpose was to secure valuable commodities with the mark of ownership or to guarantee the authority of a letter or contract.” Sound familiar? 

Aunt Jemima’s character, who many think was one of the first used to endorse a product in North America, was invented by two entrepreneurs, Chris Rutt and Charles Underwood of the Pearl River Milling Company. Nancy Green, born in slavery, began representing Aunt Jemima and demonstrating the company’s new self-rising flour at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. In her own way she conquered the world, sold over 50,000 orders, was given a lifetime contract, and toured all over the country. 

In 1926, the year after Paul Newman was born, the Aunt Jemima trademark was purchased by The Quaker Oats Company. We all know the story of his magnificent life and career. Charity is of course what separates the use of his image from the others. Over $250 million have been raised by Newman’s Own using his endearing image.

Which brings us to Giada. A child of celebrity, hyped by a cable channel driven by the popularity of celebrity chefs, and trying to sell anything she and her licensing partners think she can hype, sorry I’ll stop. I will admit the book has a great recipe for wheat linguine with green beans, ricotta and lemon.

It will be interesting to see how the use of celebrity endorsements develops from here. and who will be remembered in another 2,350 years.


Clark Hine, Darlene. 1993. Black Women in America: An Historical Perspective

Henig, Martin and Guy Wilson, Nigel. 2006. Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece


About Richard Shear

designer, husband, teacher, blogger, father, athlete, author, historian Richard has over 25 years of brand identity and package design experience, with a wide range of clients such as Ahold, Coca-Cola, Hasbro, IBM, Johnson & Johnson, Pernod Ricard and Procter & Gamble. He began his career working with the legendary advertising art director, and AIGA Medalist, George Lois and the British design manager Clive Chajet. In his next design management position at Lippincott & Margulies, he worked with Walter Margulies learning the complex skills of global corporate identity. He then became Creative Director and Partner at Peterson & Blyth, one of the premier brand identity and package design firms of the time. He is a founding faculty member of the Masters in Branding Program at New York’s School of Visual Arts. He publishes the blog The Package Unseen, and has been a guest lecturer at colleges including FIT, Trinity College and Tyler School of Art. He is a graduate of the Tyler School of Art at Temple University. Richard is a Board member of the AIGA MetroNorth Chapter, past President of AIGA‘s Brand Design Association, President of the Package Design Council and a member of its Board of Directors. He is a member of USA Cycling and US Rowing, a nationally ranked masters bicycle racer, and a member of The Saugatuck Rowing Club, the 2010 Masters Club National Champion.
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