Two weird copycat cases in the business world this week. Both are hard to get your head around because each is very different and covers new ground.
In the ad world, Old Navy is running a new commercial starring a Kim Kardashian doppelganger named Melissa Molinaro, then tweeting about it. Kim’s response — sue the retailer for blatantly trading on her appearance and pop culture identity. Lookalike models have been employed for years to sell product. Sometimes in person and sometimes in TV spots. This case is a lot more complicated.
It would have cost Old Navy hefty upfront money to hire the real Kim Kardashian as a spokesperson or performer in their new commercial. So, the retailer staged its own music video spot and used an unknown dead ringer instead. When the double takes started, they could have claimed coincidence about the model’s striking resemblance to Kim. Instead, they went on social media and tried to create additional buzz by getting fans’ reactions to the new ad. One tweet read “@CBSNEWS reports that Old Navy’s Super CUTE star looks like @kimkardashian. #LOL. What do you think?”
Hard to quantify what the real Kim Kardashian would have delivered to Old Navy; however, she and her attorneys are projecting 15-20 million dollars in lost revenue that Old Navy should have delivered to her. That’s a lot of tees and khakis.
Clearly, the retailer is trading on Kim’s popular persona. So, why not hire the real McCoy? Was Old Navy intentionally trying to save money or to be cheeky (pun intended)? Likely, they were trying to do both. But it may wind up costing them a lot more money in the long run. Even deceased celebrities, whose visages have been resurrected for commerce (Fred Astaire dancing with a vacuum cleaner comes to mind) had their estates compensated through licensing arrangements. It will be interesting to see how this case plays out, but Kim Kardashian has a compelling argument.
TV commercial lookalikes are one thing. How about an entire retailer that has been copied right down to its wholly unique store layout, customer support system, and point-of-purchase branding? Forbes and other major news outlets report that someone is opening computer outlets in a remote part of China that are the spitting images of Apple Stores. Counterfeit retailers selling counterfeit hardware and software. Shiver me timbers! How can that be anything but a blatant act of piracy?
Apple’s Board of Directors is currently looking at succession plans for when Steve Jobs leaves the company. Perhaps they should worry that he not be kidnapped, then cloned. Originality is still to be admired and protected.
Update: From Reuters comes news that the viral nature of the fake Apple store story has created a point-of-sale frenzy of angry customers confronting belligerent employees. It is still unclear whether the products being sold are genuine Apple products or knockoffs, but it is abundantly clear that the store is not an official Apple retail outlet in China. Caveat emptor. And once again, sunshine is the best disinfectant.