Balancing Balls with the First Amendment

Yep, I said “balls.” Because that’s what it takes to grab a picture of a sitting president wearing your coat from the AP, pay them a license fee for use, but never obtain permission or a release from the subject of the photo. Yes, that would be THE PRESIDENT. Then, you plaster this advertisement — because that’s what it is — on a huge Times Square billboard and add it to your website, absolutely implying the endorsement of President Obama for your apparel.

Obama NOT endorsing Weatherproof jackets
Obama NOT endorsing Weatherproof jackets, courtesy of New York Times

And in case that isn’t ballsy enough, here’s what you say to the New York Times:  

“Is it a calculated risk? Not being an attorney — I’m being, really, a designer, merchandiser guy in the apparel business — I would leave that to the attorneys or whatever. We’re not saying President Obama endorses Weatherproof apparel.”

This is the same logic used frequently by my 15-year-old son. Way to go, Freddie Stollmack, the garment company’s president. I’m not going to mention the manufacturer’s name, since they’re generating plenty of publicity by sending out press releases and trying to place the image into ads in major newspapers (all of whom turned it down). As a publicity stunt, it was a reasonably calculated risk. And a slippery, slighty queasy slither around ethics.

Even PR people (and I have been one since 2004), whom many in the media regard as an annoyingly necessary evil, might find this one doesn’t quite hammer the round peg of “controversy” into the square hole “any publicity is good publicity.” I’m just saying.

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