Tuesday, October 6, 2009


The use of Presidential images to sell advertisements is nothing new. Obviously you see a bunch of Washington and Lincoln images on President's Day, and you can usually count on a car dealer or someone to incorporate the current sitting President in their ads, along with a "celebrity voice impersonated" disclaimer.

But there's a whole different tone to the Presidential advertising this year - and it's just not Presidential.

Perhaps you're flipping the TV dial and you run across an infomercial in which the video and audio shows President Obama speaking, but the crawl at the bottom announces a wonderful home refinance offer.

Or perhaps you're on Facebook and you see an ad like this:

Note the language used by these ads - the advertisers are implying that President Obama is ordering you to buy their products. It would be unpatriotic to do otherwise.

Now perhaps some may counter that citizens have felt deep attachment to many of our Presidents, not just Obama. But I never recall seeing an advertisements stating "President Reagan wants you to tear down your wall and build a new one with FlyByNight Bricks." And although I was very young at the time, I seriously doubt that a 1962 ad declared, "President Kennedy wants you to smoke Dominican cigars."

Now there are some from one end of the spectrum who argue that this is just additional evidence of Obama's secret goal to become a Satanic false messiah, and that citizens are being misled to robotically follow his will. But on the other end of the spectrum, those who probably DO believe that Obama is the Messiah are outraged that The One's message is being co-opted by the fascist capitalists.

But is it legal to use Obama to hawk stuff? This question was raised in Yahoo! Answers (specifically in reference to the commercial that showed an Obama speech), and here is Ryan M's answer:

Very poor taste, but very legal. He is a public figure and they are using footage from a public speech. They are not changing his words. People who think that this is an endorsement are probable not too smart to begin with and that is the commercials target audience. Tacky I agree, unethical (Probably), but 100% legal.

Now there may be other legalities involved - for example, if the advertiser used footage taken by NBC News without NBC's permission - but this ties in with other uses of government-authored material. The next time you get a government publication, look for the copyright notice - there isn't any. Be sure to check at tax time and look at Joe Blow's Tax Guide - you'll probably find a lot of government-authored material in there. And basically, it's legal:

TITLE 17 > CHAPTER 1 > § 105

§ 105. Subject matter of copyright: United States Government works

Copyright protection under this title is not available for any work of the United States Government, but the United States Government is not precluded from receiving and holding copyrights transferred to it by assignment, bequest, or otherwise.

Of course, you have to use some artful wording to imply that Barack endorses your stuff. For example, here's how I'd get Barack Obama AND George W. Bush to "endorse" my Empoprise-BI blog:

President Barack Obama and President George W. Bush don't agree on a lot of things, but they do agree that reading is the sign of a highly cultivated mind. Read the Empoprise-BI business blog, part of the Empoprises series of blogs that was founded during the Bush Administration and continues in the Obama Administration. The Empoprise-BI is capable of being viewed wherever you may be, whether you're in the White House, Capitol Hill, or the Wall Street business centers. Join the Presidents in reading today!

You see, if you surround your product in Presidential veneer, you can make ANYTHING look good.
blog comments powered by Disqus