Jun 02

American Apparel Baited Woody Allen into Suing Them

How to Generate Tens of Millions of Dollars In Press?

Not too long ago, Woody Allen won a $5 million lawsuit against American Apparel because they used his image on an ad. It wasn’t the ad that is above. I Photoshopped that this morning. It was this one:

1.) I don’t really see what this ad would have done for American Apparel. It’s a far departure from their other more noticeable ads. 2.) Anyone who’s been in advertising for any period of time would know that this usage of Allen’s image is far from fair use.

My theory is that American Apparel baited Allen into suing them and then milked all of the free press. Just Google “Woody Allen American Apparel” and you will see hundreds of links in all sorts of publications around the world. Association with American Apparel would not be good for his image considering their usual ads come off just shy of porn. Suing them would be a pretty clear cut case as well. You can’t use images of movies in your advertisements without permission.

For five million dollars, I’d say the natural press they got made this a better investment than a TV ad campaign. American Apparel has never shied away from controversy and challenging copyright makes them seem cool to a younger generation. Considering he got $5 million just because a clothing shop put an image of him with a beard on a billboard, he came out pretty well too.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/eschipul eschipul

    You are 100% correct in my opinion. It was clever for American Apparel to pull it off. Certainly there was risk, my bet is they didn't expect to settle at 5M but were hoping for more like 1M. But still the press was worth it for a brand that isn't afraid of a bit of controversy.

    It is also interesting to note they picked Woody Allen. Allen to me is a "fringe-dweller" as far as celebrities go given past controversies. If American Apparel had done this with a more universally popular celebrity the public opinion might not have been so kind to the AA brand.

    It reminds me of the first companies that built "retail outlets" in Second Life. Who cares if anyone in SL visited them; the mainstream press was worth WAY more than the cost of building the retail store in a virtual world.

    • http://michellesblog.net Michelle

      Ooh, another example. When Philip Morris spends $25k on anti-smoking campaigns and $100k telling you about it.

      Thanks for visiting my blog, Ed. Your comments are always insightful.

  • Jack

    I disagree. I think the whole thing was sheer stupidity. I think they thought Woody Allen would not sue since they took the ads down at his insistence. But instead of paying him, they harrassed him claiming they would call his ex-girlfriend and his wife to discuss a scandal that they claimed ruined his reputation – in essence as if to say that he could not prove damages. When this backfired, then they claimed Free Speech, but it was a losing argument because any social statement was unclear and it wasn't a clear parody. So, they folded and the insurance company settled. Woody could have received an even higher payout had he not taken the settlement, but as he said, "this is not how I earn my living." He would have preferred that they never put up the billboard and never had to settle for $5 million. To recap, I don't think the company gained anything but bad publicity for the company and for it's out-of-control CEO. Now they face higher insurance premiums during an era when the company is losing money. For a company that typically nets $15 milion a year, how was a $10+ million lawsuit in any way constructive?

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michellegreer michellegreer

      $15 million? With as many stores as they have and the kind of online business they do? That number hardly seems accurate.

      Personally, I could give a crap if Woody Allen sues them. I buy American Apparel because their goods aren't made by eight-year-olds in sweatshops in Bangladesh. They give their workers insurance and fair wages, and don't overwork them. Most of the "trashy ads" they put out are actually volunteers who willingly pose for them. So seriously, I don't care if they piss of Woody Allen in a fairly innocent way, because at least they aren't exploiting millions of people across the world who seemingly don't exist because we choose to ignore them.

  • http://www.pixxxiepie.com/wormwood raquel

    Great article!! And your Photoshop work on that Woody-supermodel-Frankenstein is freakin' brilliant in too many ways to count. I must agree, in the end, both parties do seem to have made out like bandits in this bizarre situation. American Apparel gets the advertising and Woody gets paid. Yeah, he had to take someone to court instead of working out an arrangement through his agent or publicist or whoever…But the guy actually makes a profit off American Apparel's attention grabbing shenanigans and probably paid his lawyers a little less than he would have paid his "career representatives" had Amer. App. gone through the proper channels to get permission to use the guy's ugly mug. Cha-ching for both parties.

  • http://blog.asmartbear.com Jason Cohen

    Not to mention — For everyone who saw the billboard but didn't know about the lawsuit (which is most people?), they bought an endorsement.

    So if you know about the buzz they bought that, and if you don't they bought the image, all for $5m. Not too bad.

    Of course if you can prove they willfully did that, wouldn't the suit be even larger? But how could you NOT know…

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/skquinn skquinn

    American Apparel did something completely devoid of scruples and common sense; apparently, they have no shame at all. On top of that, it's terrible advertising and I don't see what the ad by itself gets them either. (I assume the text is just a slogan in Hebrew; can someone translate?)

    Jason is right about having bought an endorsement, and I think it is unfortunate that Woody Allen did not stipulate that AA run apology ads for the next few weeks; the message being sent here is "try brazenly violating copyright, you might get sued but you'll still get publicity."

  • iamBRANKK

    What a great idea!

    … they are only a low class brand..but they get all this energy. I think it is fucking GREAT work!