Jacket maker Weatherproof Garment Company took advantage of a GQ-style photo of the President standing in front of the picturesque Great Wall of China.
The White House was not pleased.
Smack in the middle of Times Square in New York – one of the busiest and most-watched intersections on Earth – stood a larger-than-life billboard featuring President Obama, in a Weatherproof jacket, in front of the Great Wall of China.
Now wait. Don’t we see the image of the President just about everywhere? Your local newspaper doesn’t need White House permission to feature the Pres on page 1, do they?
Of course not. But that’s different.
News organizations (even bloggers) can use the image or likeness of political figures – with a few exceptions – in editorial content. That can include all manner of news reports, commentary, and even political cartoons. It’s a sort of "fair use" interpretation and falls into the freedom of speech / freedom of the press continuum.
Clearly, that’s not what Weatherproof was doing.
The headline "A leader in style" is clever, yes (borrowing "style points" from the unarguably GQ-ish President), but could hardly be seen as political commentary. Whatever Weatherproof may have tried to claim, the company is hoping to sell jackets. Plain and simple.
At least, that’s how the White House interpreted it.
Last week, White House counsel Kendall Burman and Weatherproof spokesman Allen Cohen had a "cordial conversation" in which Mr. Burman reminded Mr. Cohen that public figures have a right to protect their likeness for commercial purposes. Needless to say, Weatherproof agreed to take down the billboards at the earliest possible time.
That said, it will be two weeks before the logistics line up to make that happen. Two weeks of continued visibility. Two weeks of continued buzz. All told, it will turn out to be a pretty good return on advertising investment.
Methinks Weatherproof knew exactly what it was doing when it flirted with the edge of the law.
This is gorilla advertising of the first order.
Yes, two billboards in Times Square aren’t the equivalent of stuffing flyers under windshield wipers at your local supermarket, but it’s still pretty darned creative. With a modest investment, and a cheap license fee from the Associated Press for the photo of the President in China, Weatherproof was able to generate disproportionate attention for their little campaign.
I have to admit, I took a look-see at the Weatherproof website. I need a new coat, and the one in the ad looks pretty good. Frankly, I never would have considered it otherwise. We’ll have to see what the ad does for sales on a larger scale, but my guess is the net-net will be positive.
But aren’t there any risks in this type of strategy?
The President may engender good feelings for many people, and many people may view him as a style/trend leader, but those warm fuzzies are not universal. Does the Weatherproof brouhaha actually dissuade right-leaning buyers from the brand?
But my guess is that Weatherproof understands its buyer demographics pretty well.
Was the campaign risky? Yes. But did it pay off? I think ‘yes’ as well.
—Jason Voiovich, Principal and Co-Founder of Ecra Creative Group and Author of the State of the Brand weekly column