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Forever 21 sued by singer Ariana Grande for launching a ‘misleading campaign’

American singer Ariana Grande (pictured left) is suing American fast fashion retailer Forever 21 for launching an ad campaign resembling her “7 Rings” music video and using a look alike model in its ads. The campaign also used the phrase “You want it, we got it!” which was similar to the iconic phrase “I want it, I got it” used in Grande’s song.

In a lawsuit filed with the US District Court Central District of California seen by Marketing, Grande said Forever 21 had sought her endorsement of its clothing and accessories in February 2019, “hoping to benefit from Grande’s celebrity and influence”. The endorsement deal involved social media marketing, including but not limited to posts on Twitter and Instagram, as well as Instagram stories.

Grande however, “explicitly declined” due to Forever 21’s unwillingness to pay the fair market value for a celebrity of her statue.

“Fearing irrelevance in a rapidly evolving market with increasing competition from other fast fashion brands, rather than pay Grande, Forever 21 and Riley Rose, the beauty company started by the daughters of Forever 21’s rounders, instead stole her name, likeness and other IP to promote their brands for free,” the lawsuit said.

While Riley Rose and Forever 21 allegedly have a similar customer base, Riley Rose aims to be “very trendy and Instagram-worthy as the ultimate homage to Millennials”, according to its founders Esther and Linda Chang, the lawsuit said. Both ladies are the daughters of Do Wan Chang, founder and CEO of Forever 21.

The lawsuit alleged that Forever 21 “stole” Grande’s name and likeness by launching a “misleading campaign” on its website and social media platforms earlier this year. The campaign allegedly capitalised on the success of Grande’s album “Thank U, Next” by releasing approximately 30 unauthorised images and videos “misappropriating” the singer’s name, image, likeness and music (pictured below). The lawsuit added that this was in a bid to create the false perception of her endorsement.

“As part of Forever 21’s unauthorised marketing campaign, they also falsely suggested Grande’s endorsement by hiring a look alike model and posting photos of that model in clothing and accessories that resemble clothing worn in Grande’s music videos and that the public immediately associates with Grande,” the lawsuit added.

The fast fashion brand not only used a model with a similar look and hairstyle, it also brought on board someone who looks strikingly similar to the American singer, wearing the hairstyle that she wore in the “7 Rings” music video. The model was also dressed in a top designed to look like the one worn by Grande in several well-known photographs.

The resemblance is uncanny and Forever 21’s intent was clear: to suggest to the viewing public that Grande endorsed Forever 21, its products, and was affiliated with Forever 21.

When contacted by Grande’s representatives to remove all unauthorised uses of her name, likeness and intellectual property (IP) twice, Forever 21 did not go through with its stated agreement. Instead, the unauthorised posts remained on Forever 21’s and Riley Rose’s social media accounts until at least 17 April 2019. As a result, both parties “improperly misappropriated and profited from” Grande’s influence and star power for approximately 14 weeks.

According to the lawsuit, Forever 21’s and Riley Rose’s “unauthorised use” of Grande’s name, image, likeness and music to promote their brands are “blatant and willful violations” of her statutory and common law rights of publicity and constitute infringement of Grande’s copyrights and trademarks under the Copyright Act and Lanham Act respectively.

As such, Grande is seeking an award of actual damages, the repayment of the fast fashion brand’s “ill-gotten profits” and an award of punitive damages to deter Forever 21 and Riley Rose from future violations of her personal and IP rights.  Marketing has reached out to Forever 21 for comment.

Meanwhile, eagle-eyed netizens also spotted the resemblance between Forever 21’s ad and Grande’s “7 Rings” music video, calling the brand out for copyright infringement. In a Facebook post that has been around for approximately seven months, some netizens questioned if the campaign was done in collaboration with Grande while others asked if the singer got paid for the campaign.

The fast fashion retailer also made headlines recently when it was reported to be filing for bankruptcy. Quoting its sources, Bloomberg said this comes as Forever 21’s cash diminishes and turnaround options grow dim. Forever 21 has reportedly been in discussions for additional financing and collaborating with a team of advisers to help restructure its debt. However, Bloomberg reported that negotiations with potential lenders have “so far stalled”.

[advertising + marketing’s PR Asia will come to Malaysia this November, gathering together some of the finest minds in industry to explore the exciting and developing world of digital PR. Join us for a series of exclusive case studies, interactive and thought-provoking discussions at PR Asia on 20 November in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Register now.] 

(Photo courtesy: Ariana Grande’s MV, lawsuit filed by Ariana Grande and Forever 21’s Facebook page)

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