Hey Michael, Say It Ain’t So

I just read in the Trib that you’re suing Dominick’s for $5 million b/c they used your name in an ad that ran in a commemorative edition of Sports Illustrated. Really? As I understand it, the subject of that special SI issue was “Michael Jordan and his induction into the Hall of Fame.”


You can read the full story on page 4 of today’s Chicago Tribune. Or online here.
Is MJ being “greedy?” Cast your vote here.

43 thoughts on “Hey Michael, Say It Ain’t So

  1. Susan Morris says:

    I think the congrats ad is funny. Did Michael lose his sense of humor when he turned the big five-oh-oh?


  2. David says:

    Here’s another question: Does Sports Illustrated’s ad sales department have any culpability in this matter? After all, they accepted the “coupon” ad. And Dominick’s money.


  3. I love the ad and it makes me want a steak. It congratulates MJ and sells meat. Win. Win.
    Does MJ really need $$ that bad?


  4. Mike says:

    I think both sides are wrong. If I were the judge, here’s what I’d do: Make Dominick’s pay a $10,000 penalty for each coupon that was redeemed.

    Of course, since this ad only ran in one special issue of SI and not in a Sunday FSI, I’d bet not a single one was clipped and turned in.


  5. David Moore says:

    Bad move on MJ’s part. Protect his brand? He just tarnished it with a petty lawsuit.


  6. Michael Blumfield says:

    The lawsuit has merit. It is the amount of damages that Jordan seeks that is absurd.


  7. Bruce Caswell says:

    This seems like an extreme approach to protecting brand integrity. But ‘No publicity is bad publicity’ and I wonder how much additional exposure Dominick’s has enjoyed because of the lawsuit?


  8. Clarke Echols says:

    Why do so many celebrities seem so inclined to behave like jerks? Someone congratulates you in print, and instead of saying ‘Thank You’, they launch a lawsuit for a ton of money.

    I agree with the judge — the plaintiff’s being greedy. Not surprising when 80% of Americans think the best way to get rich is to win a big lawsuit, and we have a severe over-supply of personal-injury lawyers looking to make a pile themselves from high-dollar cases.

    The real lesson here should be for the advertiser. This is obviously a brand-image ad and those tend to be (1) expensive, including risk of lawsuits in this case, and (2) ineffective.

    A good direct-response approach is more likely to produce bodies coming into the store, you can measure results, and you have less exposure to legal trouble.

    As for Jordan, I didn’t have a high opinion of him before, and it’s even lower now, so he’s damaging his own brand. But I don’t read SI, don’t watch sports (I think he plays basketball), and couldn’t care less whether he’s rich or a pauper. But why clog up busy courts with theatrics?


  9. Michael Rapp says:

    Huh. I was unaware that Stella Liebeck’s lawsuit was considered frivolous.


  10. Stephanie Toronto says:

    I don’t know why this myth that the McDonald’s lawsuit was frivolous still perpetuates. It was not a frivolous suit, at all.

    As for whether the suit at issue here is frivolous, I wouldn’t jump to that conclusion. Regardless of whether Jordan is actually entitled to a $5m damage award, he does have an interest in how his name and likeness are used. What is frivolous about attempting to protect his publicity rights?


    • Judy Bean says:

      Exactly, Stella. The problem is, they didn’t ask permission (as far as I can tell). As for thanking or congratulating Jordan, puh-leeze. An ad is an ad. Any content is there for its usefulness to the client.


    • Richard E. Roberts says:

      He knows what he wants to believe. Don’t try to confuse matters with the facts!


  11. Nick Harman says:

    Always best to ask for too much than too little. That way you get the most you could have, after negotiation. If you ask for too little, no ones going to negotiate up!


  12. Thom Villing says:

    I’m not sure the copywriter has anything to feel bad about. Whoever authorized the ad should take the fall. Still, I agree that MJ did more harm to his brand with his suit than this one-off ad ever could.


  13. Nick Harman says:

    We once used a photo of a famous athlete in a watch ad, all paid for and above board. At the last minute an account man briefed behind our backs an artworker to actually comp one of the client’s watches onto the athlete’s wrist. And thats how the ad went out.

    You can imagine how that ended up. Still, the athlete did at least give the money he won to charity


  14. Gene Tallarico says:

    The whole section was about him and his NBA achievements. No grounds for a suit. Case dismissed …and thanks for wasting the court’s time.


  15. Christine Brucker says:

    Was it MJ or his lawyers? I agree with @Michael Blumfield, I think the amount of the suit is the attention-getter here.


  16. Nick Harman says:

    Most people see these kinds of things as an easy pay day, they wont get the astronomic sums they ask for of course, but they will get something. So it’s worth a go.


  17. Christine Brucker says:

    Plus, MJ is in the news again. So, an additional benefit.


  18. Jason Wennet says:

    Someone in the agency should be culpable, but not the creative team. How this ad wasn’t vetted by the agency or client’s legal counsel is absurd.

    Michael Jordan has a pretty clear formula for the market value of his image, as well as the right to refuse his image to be used. This is a classic and careless case of begging forgiveness rather than asking permission, and it came back to bite them hard.

    (Granted, I have a self-proclaimed law degree from the university of Law & Order)


  19. Thom Villing says:

    Christine, are you applying the PT Barnum principle that any publicity is good publicity?


  20. Thom Villing says:

    Jason, your point is well taken, but I would submit that brand value is not the same as market value. Every act that is perceived as less than honorable effectively devalues the brand.


  21. Christine Brucker says:

    Thom – merely an observation that MJ has not been a name in the news recently. Coincidence? Possibly.


  22. Jason Wennet says:

    Thom, I think his brand value is buoyed by the products he chooses to endorse. And that is what maintains the inertia of his market value. But I agree with you that the suit has the potential for damage.

    Sadly, this is a business-based law suit that has been wrapped with an emotionally false sense morality over the amount he’s asking for in damages.

    All that said, this story will probably be gone and forgotten long before this thread ends.


  23. Clifton Simmons II says:

    The copywriter has nothing to worry about. But how many creatives can say they got caught up in a lawsuit with Michael Jordan over their work?


  24. Mark Merenda says:

    Watch this documentary and then talk to me about Stella Liebeck and McDonald’s. Her suit was anything but frivolous: http://www.hotcoffeethemovie.com


  25. Mark Merenda says:

    Another thought/note: I am not a lawyer and have never been involved in a lawsuit. However, as I understand trademark law, it is important for the holder of a trademark to show that he/she has reacted to any violation of that trademark,not just sometimes. But that can be a PR/marketing nightmare if not handled well (Michael Jordan Crushes Tiny Local Pizza Shop). Perhaps many of you are aware of the alternative approach adopted by Jack Daniels: http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/jack_daniels_cease-and-desist_letter_goes_viral_for_being_exceeedingly_poli/


  26. Dominic Blendell says:

    Agree – not the copywriters fault – this should have never gotten past the cutting room floor. Jordan’s notorious for protecting his brand. And why not.

    I don’t think he is drumming up publicity for publicity’s sake…he still has the best selling sports shoe in the world by a mile doesn’t he and that’s 10 years after retiring…can’t see that changing with his host of current NBA Ambassadors representing his brand.


  27. Nick Harman says:

    There’s always room for more money in the bank.


  28. Derek Walker says:

    Michael Jordan is nothing compared to Disney. There is very little happy about the “Happiest place on Earth” if you decide to use their property without permission or in the wrong fashion. Jordan is a business, use a P&G logo and see what happens.

    We call Jordan greedy but how many of us would suggest one of our clients ignore someone doing this with their image? He is attempting to send a message that his image cannot be used for free, no matter how small the campaign or business. Car dealers here in the USA are famous for using music or images until they are caught. This practice is wrong.


  29. Julie Mills says:

    I am so tired of hearing that suit called “frivolous.” Skin grafts and 3rd degree burns are not frivolous.


  30. Nick Harman says:

    As will your attorney’s fees!


  31. Bill Waites says:

    Generally speaking, an attorney, (I am not one) will say if you let this one go without protest or comment, more will follow and your defense will be diminished.


  32. Thom Villing says:

    Legal opinions and marketing opinions seldom align.


  33. Dave Redemann says:

    Sorry David, but the McDonald’s hot coffee lawsuit was anything but frivolous. There are plenty of dishonest corporations, however, who are thrilled you believe otherwise:


  34. Don Kilcoyne says:

    This is the same Michael Jordan who owns three well-respected Steakhouses, including one in Grand Central, right? And they put his name and number over a picture of a discounted steak? I would have sued as well.

    The suit clearly has merit. And the copywriter should have done a little research on the subject of the ad before aligning a steakhouse restauranteur with a discounted steak offer from another business. That’s just common sense. I don’t think he or she should be sued; decisions like that are made higher up the food chain. But seriously, that was a very poorly executed ad, from conception to clearance.

    I had a client insist on using an aged popstar’s name in a campaign of mine years ago. I had the foresight to make the client acknowledge, in writing, that I thought the headline was a very bad idea and I had nothing to do with rolling out that particular ad. When the lawsuit came, our agency paid a portion, but the client took the bulk of the hit.


  35. Rob Hatfield says:

    Mr. Redemann, thanx for setting Dave straight on that one. I’m so sick of people talking about the frivolous “hot coffee” lawsuit without knowing the facts. Imagine what would have happened to that woman if she had actually tried to drink it. Furthermore, the public health inspector had issued 3 citations to that same McDs for brewing coffee at a dangerously high temperature before the incident.


  36. Eric Sonnenschein says:

    The money amount is an attention-getter, but more importantly, a deterrent.

    Anyone henceforth who considers using the name, image, or trademark attributes (eg, #23 on a b-ball jersey) of a celebrity without obtaining rights will think twice.

    Celebrity is a commodity–and personal property. Just as you can’t use a recognizable product or a famous piece of music in a movie without permission, you shouldn’t be able to use a person’s name because you feel like it. A public person is not in the public domain.

    Don’s point is also of special relevance here. MJ,owns a high-end steakhouse chain and does not want his name used by a local supermarket to sell their steaks.


  37. moses sozi says:

    can we work together in film making ?


  38. Eric Sonnenschein says:

    By the way, I agree with Derek’s point above. I said it differently, but he said it first.


  39. Susan Carroll says:

    Either a good reason to have o&e insurance…or be a sole proprietor with no assets.


  40. Nick Harman says:

    It’s why so many agencies today won’t take you on freelance unless you’re a limited company, I believe it means they can let you deal with any legal problems you might cause.


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