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How Hertz Turned O.J. Simpson Into the ‘Superstar in Rent‐a‐Car’

Executives at the rental car company Hertz knew what they wanted to project to potential business travelers in the 1970s: speed, reliability and efficiency.

They quickly realized that one man radiated all of those qualities. So they made the football player O.J. Simpson, who died on Wednesday at the age of 76, the first Black star of a national television advertising campaign.

“They had a slogan — the Superstar in Rent‐a‐Car — and I was the current reigning superstar as far as the competition was concerned,” Simpson told The New York Times in 1976.

The campaign would pay dividends for both the company and its pitchman, who in early Hertz ads was shown racing through an airport terminal and leaping over rope barriers, clutching a briefcase instead of cradling a football. In some of Simpson’s later ads, average Janes and Joes cheered him on as he ran, yelling, “Go, O.J., Go!”

At that time, decades before Simpson was acquitted of killing his former wife and her friend, he was known for dazzling on the field for the University of Southern California and the Buffalo Bills. His athleticism and speed made Simpson the perfect choice for the Hertz commercials that widened his stardom beyond the gridiron, offering him up as a suave, smiling promoter known to football fans and businessmen alike.

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