Friday, January 22, 2010

Using the Obamas as a marketing asset

The Obamas are a marketing asset – as quite a few companies and organizations know. Going by the assumption “it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission”, they use the Obamas in their PR.

The outdoor clothes company Weatherproof noticed that the President was wearing one of their coats when photographed on the Great Wall of China. The company promptly used this news picture for the advertisement touting the tagline 'A Leader In Style'. In the pic, Obama stands alone in a strike, rugged pose – perfect for the company’s image and brand. The picture was taken by the Associated Press, and the clothes company bought the right to use it in an advert. They promptly turned it into a giant-sized photograph on a Times Square billboard. AlthoughWeatherproof did not seek permission from the White House, claiming it didn’t need to since the billboard does not claim Mr Obama endorses the product.

Freddie Stollmack, CEO of Weatherproof stated: 'He didn't come to us. It's just a great looking jacket on a great looking president. Mr Stollmack said he thinks the White House should congratulate his company for making Mr Obama look so good. We did this in good faith. This is an image that we thought would enhance the President of the United States.' He added that although another advertising company had accepted the billboard, the New York Times, the New York Post and Women's Wear Daily had all rejected a similar advert for their newspapers.

The White House was not amused. Deputy press secretary Bill Burton said that the White House has a long-standing policy that disapproves of the use of President Obama's name and likeness for commercial purposes.

But also Mrs. Obama has been used for PR purposes –without her position. PETA used her image in a new ad. PETA states that the first lady has committed to not wearing fur and "the world should know that in PETA's eyes that makes her pretty fabulous." The anti-fur poster features an image of the U.S. First Lady along with presenter Oprah Winfrey, singer Carrie Underwood and supermodel Tyra Banks, under the slogan 'fur-free and fabulous!'

The image that the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals used is the one from her first official White House portrait, taken in February last year. Ingrid Newkirk, president of PETA, confirmed that PETA had not asked for Mrs. Obama's permission to use the portrait, since they knew the First Lady could not officially endorse an anti-fur campaign advert. PETA also insisted, that they used her image in its Washington advertising campaign based on White House confirmation that she does not wear fur. The new adverts featuring Mrs. Obama appeared in Washington's Metro stations, magazines and PETA's website.

It is unclear whether the White House can prevent companies from using the Obamas’ images in advertising campaigns. Shortly after he took office last year, the White House launched a crackdown on 'Brand Obama' and insisted on control over the merchandising free-for-all in the wake of his inauguration. But it is difficult to enforce, especially since the chances for companies and organizations (especially outside of the US) to be sued are slim. Low cost, low risk, huge impact - a marketing dream come true…as the following clip shows....

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