The Best Commercial Ever? James Brown Sells Miso Soup (1992)

Most stars are under­stand­ably choosy about what prod­ucts, if any, they’re will­ing to endorse. Seri­ous artists are mind­ful about their rep­u­ta­tions.

The late great God­fa­ther of Soul James Brown lent his prodi­gious tal­ents to McDon­alds (for a price), but it’s worth not­ing that most of the heavy lift­ing was done by a cast of unknowns play­ing tick­et hold­ers for­ti­fy­ing them­selves before a hot­ly antic­i­pat­ed con­cert. Brown arrives at the end, to bedaz­zle every­one in the restau­rant with his fan­cy foot­work, sequined suit, and sheer prox­im­i­ty.

Clear­ly, the Hard­est Work­ing Man in Show Busi­ness had stan­dards.

(Since his death in 2006, his hits have been used to sell ath­let­ic wear, gin, beer, and pork ten­der­loin, proof that these things are hard­er to con­trol from beyond the grave.)

Japan­ese tele­vi­sion is one are­na where many West­ern celebri­ties are will­ing to relax their usu­al poli­cies. The prospect of an enor­mous pay­check for so lit­tle work is hard to beat, though in the age of Youtube, there’s a far greater like­li­hood that their core fans will see the results.

Youtube was not a con­cern in 1992, when Brown filmed the above 15-sec­ond spot for Nissin Cup Noo­dles. No one can accuse him of phon­ing it in. He dances, lip synchs soup-cen­tric Japan­ese lyrics to the tune of Sex Machine, and even—in a longer ver­sion on a kitchen set—pours boil­ing water into the cup, just like mil­lions of bud­get-con­scious artists and stu­dents the world over.

What he doesn’t do is “bite and smile,” a sta­ple of com­mer­cial act­ing. He rais­es a fork­ful of prod­uct to his mouth with an oblig­ing grin, but doesn’t ingest so much as a noo­dle.

For that, we must turn to for­mer body­builder and Gov­er­nor of Cal­i­for­nia Arnold Schwarzeneg­ger, who sup­ple­ment­ed his movie career as Nissin Cup Noo­dles’ pre­vi­ous Japan­ese TV pitch­man. Not only did he con­sent to fun­ny cos­tumes, he pile dri­ves that ramen like a World Record in Com­pet­i­tive Eat­ing depends on it. None of that clown­ing for Brown!

Read­ers, we invite you to con­tribute to our schol­ar­ship of West­ern celebs’ Japan­ese TV com­mer­cials in the com­ments sec­tion below.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

James Brown Gives You Danc­ing Lessons: From The Funky Chick­en to The Booga­loo

David Bowie Sells Ice Cream, Sake, Coke & Water: Watch His TV Com­mer­cials from the 1960s Through 2013

Jim Henson’s Vio­lent Wilkins Cof­fee Com­mer­cials (1957–1961)

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er, and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Her play Zam­boni Godot is open­ing in New York City in March 2017. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.