I was confronted by a very odd stand when I went into my local deli this week. It had a picture of a pouting Maria Sharapova on it, made up and blowing a kiss in a manner that suggested she has been coached by Miley Cyrus. Underneath was an array of gaudy coloured sugar confectionary that looked like it was straight out of the 1970s. The whole thing looked cheap and nasty, and out of place in a store that otherwise sells organic veg, expensive olive oil and ethnic bread with odd names.
The stand was a concession for 'Sugarpova', Maria's all new confectionary range aimed at... actually I have no idea who it is aimed at, or why it is in what is otherwise a health food store, but what I can tell you is it sets of a new low for a celebrity endorsement. That it was placed right in front of the door shows the power of celebrity - and I am assuming the celebrity purse - to get in our faces.
Maria Sharpova is 27 years old and in the ten years that she has been playing professionally she has earned $30,463,706 in prize money. She is likely to win much more before she retires. If that was it she has more than enough money to live very well on for the rest of her life. But the honey-skinned blonde is also one of the most Googled women in the world and the money she makes from her celebrity endorsements dwarfs her prize money. She has her own Nike clothing range and endorses luxury brands like Tag Hauer, Land Rover and Tiffany to name a few. She also models. Like David Beckham she is a sports star who has transcended her sport to become a super star. She is both a role model and an object of desire for a generation.
I tell you all this to get something very clear - she really doesn't need the money. Not even a little bit. I know sports stars have a limited career but that isn't the issue here. Maria Sharpova could pretty much endorse anything she wanted.
Which means Sugarpova is not born from necessity, but from choice, and it is a choice that we really should question.
Why would a woman who has made her fortune through a combination of being very fit and looking good wish to peddle a product that is known to cause obesity and spots? She really doesn't have to do this. She could endorse muesli or whatever concoctions she eats so she can perform like a cross between a tiger and gazelle on court. Dammit, she could just endorse healthy eating for the hell of it.
Advertising isn't an accident. It works by what is known as association. This is why advertisers pay a fortune for celebrities to endorse their products. What happens - whether we like it or not - is when we are exposed to adverts we associate the product with the sensations the adverts cause - with Maria Sharpova that is glamour, sex appeal and health.
The get out of jail for the industry and celebrities is that we have a choice, but if they really thought this they wouldn't put as much money into it as they do - most consumer product companies advertising budgets dwarfs their R&D budget (and as for 'Corporate and Social Responsibility' spending lets save that for another day).
In an era when we are now asking bankers and leaders to be held to account for their actions, it's time we did the same of those that endorse products.
At the FIFA World Cup the super fit Christiano Ronaldo, another person who doesn't want for a bob or two, chose to endorse that well known health product 'Kentucky Fried Chicken'. Now we have the lithe limbed American Open champion peddling balls of sugar. Neither needed to do this. That they do shows a lack of care for the wellbeing of their fans and the public in general as well as any sense of personal responsibility.
I love watching both of them play. They are beautiful, determined and talented people.
But they are also role models and for that they need to be held to account. It is not OK to suggest to our kids that eating junk food is cool. The amounts of money they are making are already verging on obscene, endorsing products that they clearly don't use and are detrimental to others health to make even more money is obscene.
It's time we said it wasn't OK. Apparently Miss Sharpova thought about changing her name to Sugarpova. If she does perhaps she should have a health warning tattooed on her forehead.