It used to be that marketers were paranoid about their celebrity endorsers getting into trouble.

But the latest wrinkle to hit Madison Avenue depends on just that, in what might be called notoriety marketing. Although No Excuses Jeans based its entire identity around the dubiously famous in the 1980s – think Donna Rice and Maria Maples – mainstream advertisers more recently have picked up the bait.

Last week, “Hurricane” Peter McNeeley, the pugilist who had the misfortune of facing Mike Tyson in his “comeback” fight, appeared in two TV campaigns, for America Online and Pizza Hut, that each mocked his hasty loss after McNeeley’s manager jumped into the ring.

This time, McNeeley is knocked out by the Hut’s new stuffed crust pizza, part of a continuing strategy by ad agency BBDO – which has made a cottage industry out of this sort of thing – to thrust topically infamous figures into unexpected settings. Among other recent examples: Chevy Chase bemoaning his disastrous and short-lived talkshow while hyping Lays potato chips, or Dan Quayle misspelling “potato” again.

The major lure is the added PR value such stunts can bring to an otherwise mundane product announcement. “It’s so effective in getting a tremendous amount of added value to whatever you’re doing,” says Brian Dubin, who heads the William Morris Agency’s commercials department.

Hugh Grant would’ve been a good bet, and Donald and Ivana Trump already did a bit for a previous Pizza Hut spot addressing their divorce. But Burt Reynolds and Loni Anderson turned down a $1 million offer to do likewise.

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