You can’t get away with misusing a celebrity’s good (or bad) name, or at least not for long. That name is worth something, and as such celebrities have people dedicated to maintaining it in the press and in any and all business spaces. You can fake an endorsement for a little bit, as we learned in the case of Sacha Baron Cohen, but eventually someone will find out, and the high-powered celebrity’s equally high-powered legal team will come for their pound of flesh, wherever you may be in the world.
The latest example comes from Lithuania and also involves a cannabis-related product, but more curiously also involves Clint Eastwood. The New York Times reports that Eastwood and his team won a $6.1 million lawsuit against Mediatonas UAB for the company’s misrepresentation and misuse of his name and likeness in ad campaigns. The suit was just one of two filed over the fraudulent endorsement.
The article notes that the companies manipulated search results through meta tags to direct searches for the actor and director to their site, as well as publishing an article featuring a screenshot of an appearance by the actor/director on the “Today” show, misrepresenting that appearance as one endorsing CBD, which would be quite the change for both Eastwood and “Today.”
It remains to be seen if Eastwood will see any of the $6.1 million judgment; the ruling was handed down as a default judgment, as Mediatonas UAB failed to respond to the summons, and seems likely to not respond to any further attempts to collect, if one were to guess.
Like the case of Baron Cohen, it’s easy to imagine that the companies in question felt they’d never be noticed or caught, which is particularly easy to believe when it’s companies based in Eastern Europe using the likeness of an American star. But the internet is a powerful tool, as is the desire of high-profile individuals to closely guard their image and brand.
What remains puzzling is the choice of celebrity. If you’re going to make up an endorsement out of thin air, as these companies seem to have done, why choose a man who, while admittedly one of the most famous and noteworthy movie stars of the past six or so decades, is currently 91 years old? Why not choose a younger, more current star and similarly hope that your marketing efforts go unnoticed? That’s not to endorse the actions of Mediatonas UAB, just to wonder about the thinking that went into the entire process.