Why Unapproved Obama Ads Are Worth the Risk For Weatherproof, PETA

Most people had never heard of clothier Weatherproof Garment until recently when the company posted a billboard in Times Square featuring an AP photo of President Obama wearing one of its jackets as he strolls along the Great Wall of China. The billboard was a huge boost to Weatherproof's brand, but did little to boost the company's image with the White House.The problem? The White House hadn't approved the ad. The billboard, it told the New York Times,is "clearly misleading because the company suggests the approval or endorsement of the president." Weatherproof is set to take down the billboard, according to the New York Post. Weatherproof spokesman Allen Cohen didn't immediately respond for requests seeking comments.

%%DynaPub-Enhancement class="enhancement contentType-HTML Content fragmentId-1 payloadId-61603 alignment-right size-small"%%The Weatherproof billboard is only the latest in a series of instances where companies are using unapproved images of the Obama family to sell their wares, services -- or causes.

Just before the New Year, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) launched its latest campaign. The ad, with the tagline "Fur-free and fabulous!", features Michelle Obama and three other celebrities who have publicly eschewed the use of fur in the past. Even though the ad is tame compared to PETA's typical marketing fare, the First Lady wasn't smiling.

The campaign has been "overwhelmingly positive," PETA founder and president Ingrid Newkirk tells DailyFinance. "It's a huge payoff for the message." The organization received a request from the White House Chief Counsel's office to take down the ads, Newkirk says. "We'd only take it down if Mrs. Obama herself made the request."

Courting ControversyIs Worth the Risk

Why are these organizations risking controversy and White House censure with their ad campaigns? Because there's very little risk and a huge upside to tying their brands to a First Family, says Derrick Daye, managing partner of The Blake Project and author of BrandingStrategyInsider.com.

"Weatherproof stands to gain a lot of awareness for their brand, maybe not so much from the billboard as from the White House request to stop using Obama's image," Daye says. "We live in an overcommunicated society and the mind is a limited container, so you have to take every opportunity you can."

The risk is so low -- Daye says the White House wouldn't sue over the use of an image -- that it's likely more companies will seize on this tactic to boost their brand's awareness, he says.

Around this time last year, the maker of Beanie Babies, Ty Inc., introduced two new dolls: Sweet Sasha and Marvelous Malia. The company denied that the dolls were based on the First Family's own Sasha and Malia, but the White House wasn't buying it. After all, these were the first African-American dolls to be introduced into the Ty Girlz collection. Michelle Obama called the dolls "inappropriate" and Ty eventually renamed them.

The First-Family Phenomenon

The First Family has certainly proved to boost sales. J. Crew (JCG) sold out of a cardigan worn by Michelle Obama in April, while a dress she wore on The View sold out within two days.

"She has such a positive image that it's very hard not to feel good about her when you see her," Newkirk says. "She doesn't seem to take a step wrong, so it's very, very positive. It does influence consumers."

Nevertheless, PETA and Weatherproof may face a slight risk by associating themselves with a political figure that some people -- namely Republicans in this case -- may not support, Daye points out. "Choosing a political person to tie your brand to is not always a good idea because of polarization," he says.

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