A larger-than-life President Barack Obama became a presidential pitchman Wednesday on a Times Square billboard that used his photo without permission.
Outerwear company Weatherproof used a recent news photo of the president in front of the Great Wall in Badaling, China, for the advertisement, with the tagline "A Leader In Style."
White House deputy press secretary Bill Burton said Wednesday that the White House has a long-standing policy disapproving of the use of Obama's name and likeness for commercial purposes.
Obama stands alone in the image and is captured in a striking, rugged pose. Weatherproof president Freddie Stollmack said he first saw the photo in a newspaper while Obama was on his trip to China in November. The coat looked familiar, so Stollmack got out a magnifying glass and found the brand's logo.
The photo was taken by Charles Dharapak of The Associated Press and the company purchased the right to use it from AP Images, the newsgathering organization's commercial photo arm. The AP agreement with Weatherproof required the company to seek any necessary clearances, said Paul Colford, a spokesman for The AP.
But Weatherproof did not seek permission from the White House, nor does it believe it was necessary to do so since the billboard does not say Obama endorses the product.
"He didn't come to us. It's just a great looking jacket on a great looking president," Stollmack said.
The ad has potential to be effective with consumers because the president and first lady both carry considerable fashion credibility, said Dudley Blossom, chairman of the marketing department at fashion-focused Lim College in Manhattan. But it also risks passers-by getting so caught up with the image that they won't notice the brand name, he said.
Blossom said he can't recall any previous president being used in this way to pitch a product.
But Stollmack isn't concerned about the president's response. In fact, he says, he thinks the White House should congratulate his company on making Obama look so good.
"We did this in good faith," Stollmack said. "This is an image that we thought would enhance the president of the United States."
Still, while an outdoor ad company accepted the billboard, Stollmack said The New York Times, the New York Post and Women's Wear Daily rejected a similar ad for their newspapers.
Meanwhile, the animal-rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals recently debuted a new ad campaign featuring Michelle Obama – and also did not ask for the first lady's consent. Those ads are appearing in Washington's Metro stations, magazines and PETA's Web site.
*bigger picture thanks to ladypolitik!