The $6 Million Dollar Tweet

Celebrity endorsements are used to enhance a brand’s image and can cost anywhere from $100,000 to $50 million and more. Beyonce’s recent Pepsi deal is one of the highest endorsements to date but there’s a fine line between paying a public figure to promote your product and stealing an image of a public figure who happens to have your product in hand – and then turning it into a promotional advertisement.

Katherine Heigl, an actress known for roles like 27 Dresses, The Ugly Truth and Knocked Up, is the latest person to be caught up in a social misleading marketing campaign. Heigl was shopping at a drugstore, like people do, and when she was leaving with bags in hand from Duane Reade, the company saw it as an opportunity to promote its brand via Twitter.

What the company failed to understand was the line it crossed by turning a “normal” photo into an advertisement. Imagine seeing the below photo in a media publication with the caption,
Katherine Heigl signs deal to star in sequel to 27 Dresses entitled Get Married Already.

You wouldn’t think twice that Duane Reade and Heigl had any type of business relationship. Now take a look at really happened below:

Duane Reade did not pay Heigl or her agent or use the company’s marketing budget to pay for this type of promotion. Heigl is now suing the drugstore company for $6 million stating “unauthorized use of her image.” If your argument is that the picture falls into the category of earned media (a method of getting your brand or company into the media for free rather than having to pay for advertising), then you are wrong. Earned media is something you have no control over. Duane Reade took the photo and took control of what to do with the image.

Now if the photo had been used in a magazine or online publication for example, no harm would have been done. Duane Reade would have gotten some free advertising (earned media) and the company wouldn’t be in this current mess.

A smart brand will take time to research a public figure to make sure the individual is a right fit for the brand or company’s image. Likewise, a public figure should also do his or her research on the brand or company before being attached to it. If either side is uncomfortable, then a deal isn’t made. It’s quite simple but when one side doesn’t do their homework or takes shortcuts (cough cough, Duane Reade), you get in trouble.

Social media is quick, fun, and it can reach a wide group of people making mass marketing that much more effective when paired with social media. However, social media is still relatively new that some Engagement Directors, Social Media Executives and Community Managers don’t understand the tactics of proper social marketing. I encourage anyone remotely related in the field of social marketing to think of the consequences and don’t get sucked into the fast-paced nature of social media. So many companies have learned the hard way that once something is out there, it’s out there.