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Does this man look like Ben Stein?

Economist and entertainer Ben Stein has filed a lawsuit against Kyocera and Seiter & Miller Advertising, saying they hired a look-alike to copy his style in a commercial. Here’s the commercial. Judge for yourself:

For reference, here are two commercials starring Stein, one for Hewlett-Packard and one Clear Eyes:

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The suit, available here and reported yesterday by The Wrap, says Kyocera and the ad agency entered a contract to pay Stein $300,000 to star in a commercial. But late in the deal, the client began asking questions about Stein’s views on climate change. (Stein has said that global warming is an unproven theory.) Unsatisfied with Stein’s answers, Kyocera walked away from the deal, according to the lawsuit.

The man they hired in his place is Peter Morici, a University of Maryland economics professor. According to the lawsuit: “Defendants, in an astonishingly brazen misappropriation of Ben Stein’s persona, dressed him up as Stein often appeared in commercials (bow tie, glasses, sports jacket).”

The suit makes a variety of claims related to wrongful termination and seeks $300,000 plus fees. Among the charges is that Stein was dismissed from the job because of his religious views, alluded to in the lawsuit as Stein’s belief “that God, and not man, controlled the weather.”

So far the defendants have not made any public comments about the lawsuit.

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Based on the information in the lawsuit, I come down on the side of the advertisers here. Climate change in this situation is a political issue, and a person’s record of public political statements are a legitimate concern when hiring a company spokesperson. I also don’t think Dr. Morici looks or sounds enough like Ben Stein for this to be considered misappropriation.

But my opinion doesn’t matter. We’re not judging this case on my blog. This is America — you can sue somebody for any damn reason.

Truth is, civil suits like this one, between savvy people with deep pockets, are almost always attention-getting negotiation tactics that eventually settle out of court for undisclosed sums. I’d love it if this case made it to court and became a part of settled law, but I doubt that will happen.

For people who work in advertising, the lesson is simple. Be original. Avoid situations where you start negotiating with one party, back out, and use their ideas anyway. Even if you don’t break the law, shenanigans like that hurt relationships and invite trouble.

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Related case from the archive: Kim Kardashian sues Old Navy over look-alike

— By Daryl Lang. Filed under Advertising

3 comments

  1. Stace says:

    The Kyocera spot may have been written for Stein, but Morici’s delivery is far from Ben’s. His is far more upbeat, has facial expressions and greater modulation in his voice.

    I know of another pitchman who wore glasses, a bow tie and sports coat, but no one would confuse Morici for Reddnbacher.

  2. Rob says:

    Ben, It’s really not that complicated. Not only does Peter not look like you or sound like you. He’s a more convincing pitchman than you.

  3. washingtondc says:

    It’s laughable that they claim that Kyocera ‘dressed up’ Peter Morici as they did, because actually, he wears exactly that all the time — particularly, a navy blazer and bow tie is his daily signature

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