The campaign features a photo of Allen, dressed as a Jewish rabbi in his 1977 Academy Award winning film Annie Hall, beside Hebrew script that translates to "The Holy Rebbe." (See photo, right.)
While the lawsuit is certainly interesting—or maybe not really, we find legalese to be somewhat tiresome and who isn't suing anyone else these days?—the whole situation has us kind of perplexed, then chortling, then perplexed again.
So first, you take an ego-maniac like Allen (Full disclosure: we love Allen's work; Annie Hall makes our top 10 movies of all time, though our boyfriend pulled a gifting gaff for our last anniversary by getting Manhattan, still a good movie, but it no Annie, and, for the record, we don't care if it's the deluxe edition and we once mentioned it was "our real favorite Allen movie."), and you use him in branding that doesn't, well, directly promote him and his work.
We need to note here that Allen has found a way to finagle himself into nearly all of his movie scripts, and, in the aforementioned was, indeed the main character, so this guy is no stranger to an über-level of self-promo. So we have to imagine that Allen's real beef here not that there's a promotional image of himself out there, but rather than the said image isn't promoting him in a way that he totally controls. That's totally fair, and who would want their mug on an American Apparel ad, especially without their permission? (Though some of our friends have appeared in the ads, with their all-too-eager permission.)
According to press reports concerning the lawsuit, the case argues that the use of Allen's image in the billboards in Hollywood and New York were "especially egregious and damaging," and that Allen does not endorse products or services in the United States. Hmmm... We can think of a couple things Allen has done to himself that were more "egregious and damaging" than a few billboards with a still from one of his movies, but we'll get to that later.
Second, you take a company that has made its name with 1970s porn-style ads that feature either moist looking hipsters or their rather sleazy looking bearded brethren. We're all for it, and love the gay-themed advertisements that they've done in publications like BUTT (anyone remember those "Bottoms...And Tops" spots?!, WARNING: NSFW. A tamer spot is pictured, below, left.), but, in the end, it's just kind of an edgy sex-sells play for the apparel company, you know, with a little vintage sleaze thrown in for good measure.
This oddly brings us back to Allen, someone who's rather a 1970s vintage cartoon character, who scandalized himself with what some would call a sleazy, sexual relationship with Soon Yi, the adopted daughter of Allen's former flame, Mia Farrow. So we kind of see the relevance from a marketing standpoint. In fact, in response to a query from The Jewish Daily Forward, American Apparel rep defined Allen as the brand's "spiritual leader." And if you think about it, it's kind of dead on. Better in the 1970s, sexually provocative, somewhat over-thought and overwrought (thinking lamé swimsuits and Celebrity), well these concepts all seem to define both the American Apparel and Woody Allen "brands."
Anyhow, we're not so impressed by the outdoor ads, but they sure got a lot of attention, so perhaps this whole weird mélange is worth its weight in branding gold. Still, wouldn't something it have been cooler if AA had superimposed Allen's face on one of their own hipster-hot models? Like this. So what's the lesson here folks? Well, it remains to be seen if these ads and the lawsuit move the needle any for American Apparel (as if they need it, the stores around here are always hopping with pretty, and some not-so-pretty, young things) and if that movement outweighs any legal costs, but if so, the lesson seems to be find someone both scandalous and (considered) brilliant in their field, someone who kind of relates to your own brand values, and then slap their image up on your billboards. Without all the hassle of asking.
We're not in favor of breaking the laws, per se, or abusing someone else's likeness, but do marketers really care about such meddling things as this, you know, provided it's still selling products?
Also, it's not like American Apparel hasn't ever been on the receiving end of image misappropriation issues, but for them, it actually turned out to be kind of a good thing. They were one of the faux sponsors in a Youtube spoof dubbed "The Hipster Olympics," in which contestants from Williamsburg, Brooklyn (our nabe, coincidentally, so the satire here does sting a bit) snort cocaine to get in the game, take MySpace photos, pick out ironic album covers, and dis normals.
When we asked what they thought about it, American Apparel director of corporate finance and development Adrian Kowalewski told us that since the spot wasn't "grossly defamatory" it wasn't such a big deal.
"It's quite flattering to us that our marketing would inspire someone to do a mock ad," Kowalewski added. "We think this is a reflection of how impactful our advertising has been to our audience."
So c'mon Woody, what's the big deal, man? Can't we all just, like, brand along? Anyways, I'll let you readers sort it out.
Check out the "Hipster Olympics" video, below.