When Chicago’s beloved Michael Jordan sued Dominick’s for the unauthorized use of his name and identity in a 2009 ad in Sports Illustrated, some scoffed at his greediness while others nodded in agreement with his decision to protect his brand. We here in the insurance industry let out a collective exasperated sigh of, “This is why you need Personal & Advertising Injury coverage.”
Advertising Injury is often a lesser known coverage and as a result, business owners may be more vulnerable to lawsuits regarding libel, slander, invasion of privacy and in the case of #23 v. the now defunct Dominick’s, misappropriation of name and/or likeness. Especially in our age of social media where businesses use platforms like Facebook and Twitter, it is far too easy to use a celebrity’s likeness to promote or sell your product and unless you have their express consent, you could be setting yourself up for an ugly lawsuit.
Jordan’s lawyers argued that he would never have agreed to the $126,900 that Dominick’s claimed his likeness in their ad was worth. According to the Chicago Tribune, Jordan stated that he wouldn’t have done it for even $10 million saying, “I wouldn’t have done the deal…it didn’t fit the strategy.” Whether or not you may agree with his decision to sue Dominick’s, Jordan very much has the right to protect his image and the brand that he has built for himself, and the same goes for any other athlete or celebrity.
In the end, the jury voted in favor of Jordan, leaving Dominick’s to pay out $8.9 million in damages. A hefty amount like that could easily bring a smaller business to its knees. Keep in mind that companies like Nike and Reebok pay top dollar for athletes and celebrities to promote their brand and unless your company has that kind of money to spare, be very cautious of using any celebrity likeness to sell your product. It could cost you much more than it is worth. Dominick’s found out the hard way, as the Tribune reported, “Only two customers redeemed $2 off vouchers for Rancher’s Reserve steaks attached to its Jordan ad.”
Moral of the story: tread extremely lightly should you decide to use any unauthorized celebrity likeness as a means of promoting your business or, better yet, avoid doing it at all. The cost of doing so may be a heavy financial burden on your business that could be difficult to bounce back from.