In their slow but strong emergence on the European continent, Forever21 finally arrived in Belgium – opening giant stores both in Antwerp and Brussels. Like many other bloggers I found myself invited in the numerous PR events organised by Forever21 to ‘get the word out there’. I was invited to their fashion shows, parties, store openings and interviewed for the Skinny – Forever21’s blog. Finally, I was asked if I was interested in being featured on the digital boards outside the Forever21 store in Antwerp along with a couple of other bloggers. I liked the idea of the digital screens; it was different and had never been done in Belgium. So I sent over, as requested, a HR picture of myself. Three weeks later I was up on the big rotating digital screens outside the Forever21 store in Antwerp. Then it all went horribly wrong!
My blog has allowed me to do some incredible things and discover some wonderful brands and people, but it has also allowed me to get a sneak peak behind the ‘glamorous’ curtains of the fashion industry. Slowly realising that I was somewhat of a “naïve” blogger in a multi-billion dollar industry where the reality of things is far removed from what I could have ever imagined.
What would you do if readers from your blog started congratulating you on your appearance on the digital boards of Forever21, but not those of Antwerp, “on the Forever 21 screen in Times Square…. a really big screen”. Times Square you said? I cannot for the life of me I thought remember agreeing to anything overseas, let alone my face on Times Square. I know I am no Kate Moss, but for Christ sakes surely Forever21 could have had the professionalism to ask first before putting my face on a billboard that attracts on average “350.000 spectators daily”, their words not mine. I doubt such a mistake would have been done to someone like Miss Moss.
How would you react if your image was, basically, taken from under your nose and used without your consent or even your knowledge, and by people you trusted? This was my image being diffused on one of the world’s busiest and most visited tourist attractions in the world. An iconic square where the price of advertising sky rockets because “60 foot high” digital billboards such as the Forever21 billboard is a “daily crowd stopper”. They go so far as to saying that it is considered “an endless cycle of real-time content that can generate up to 1.6 million impressions a day” – don’t trust me trust the advertising agency Space150. So far Forever21 and the Times Square advertising agency Space 150 are making money with my face and my picture, taken by my photographer, for the purpose of my blog. Forever21 did not even bother asking my photographer permission to use his photo on the billboard of Times Square.
How would you feel if your image was taken out of your control and there was nothing you could do about it? Because trust me, I tried many things but all I got was a big load of ‘nothing’. I went through the five stages of grievance. I did denial; honest mistake I thought, they would fix it. Surely such a huge campaign deserves some amount of compensation. How very wrong and naïve I was. I then went on to anger and bargaining; neither did any help and lets face it, to them I was the ‘little European blogger’ and I was up against a multi-million dollar company with in-house lawyers on rotation for the odd ‘rainy day’ – or not so odd in the case of Forever21 who is being sued left and right for all kinds of infringements. According to 39th and Broadway, Forever21 has “been taken to the US District Courts for their violations and have been sued over 50 times in the last 4 years alone for copyright infringement.”
I went through depression; thinking this was my fault, I should have been more careful, drawn up legal contracts, protected myself etc. … And now, I have made it all the way to the fifth stage, acceptance. Don’t get me wrong, this is not acceptance in the sense that I accept and endorse this kind of behaviour and image right and copyright violations. Simply put, I have accepted this is another ‘David vs. Goliath’ situation and a battle that I will probably loose but one that will go down on my terms and with my story.
Let me tell you how I felt. This experience left me feeling idiotic and even a bit moronic at times, taken advantage of, slightly vulnerable, confused, without words and most of all betrayed. Because at the end of the day, it’s about how much profit they can make on the smallest budget possible and, well bloggers like myself – without any kind of guidance and representation – are the prime targets. I leave you with one word of advice; if a company wanting to collaborate with you is not going to draw up a contract then I would think twice before doing any business with them.
ps: If any of you have a picture of me - even in the background - on the digital billboards of Forever21 on Times Square please do contact me. The reason I ask is because when I asked for a picture I was told "We’ve actually since removed your blogger image (seasonally, it wasn’t appropriate any more)".
Thank you for reading.