I've written before about how brands are using the viral lift of Buzzfeed to generate interest in new offers. But this may have crossed a line.
Jack In The Box has sponsored a Buzzfeed list, titled "14 Of The Most Notorious Celebrity Hot Messes," to promote its Hot Mess Burger.
"Hot Mess" itself is an evolving term, but is often applied to celebrities who are sloppily out-of-control and/or/were "hot". The Jack In The Box list includes Lindsay Lohan, Mel Gibson, Tara Reid, Katt Williams, Amanda Bynes, Courtney Love, Paz De La Huerta, Charlie Sheen, Kathy Lee and Hoda, Gary Busey, Victoria Jackson, Dustin Diamond, D'Angelo and Demi Moore, all with a description of well-known embarrassing behaviours and accompanied by unflattering pictures and animated gifs. At the end of the list is the sell:
Now, here's the tricky part. Scandal mags, celebrity blogs, and humour sites pretty much get a pass on exploiting celebrity trainwrecks to gain eyeballs. But this particular list looks like an ad. It's branded, and it is selling a product.
It's a well-known tactic to use world leaders or dead celebrities for attention. And PETA will make fun of live ones who screw up. But many of these cases are not-for-profits expressing their rights to political speech.
I'm no lawyer, but it seems to me that using a celebrity's image and name without permission in a clearly commercial context (as opposed to the "fair use" in traditional media, blogs or activism) might violate those celebrities' Personality Rights.
In other words, showing a picture like this and naming names might be okay for Perez Hilton, but a corporation using it to sell hamburgers might be a bit of a... umm... hot mess?
The post has been up since February 1.