Kim Kardashian, possessor of the world’s most famous Armenian-American posterior, has sued Old Navy over a television commercial featuring an actress with an uncanny resemblance to her. You can read a Washington Post account of the suit, and watch the ad, here, and read New York Daily News coverage here.
Celebrity impersonators can be a fascinating gray area of rights of publicity, but based on what I know, I’d have to say Kardashian has a very strong case here. It’s one thing when the context clearly alerts the audience that it sees an imitator, as is the case with every ersatz Elvis in Las Vegas. (I’d say the infamous decision favoring Vanna White in connection with a parody ad using a clearly robotic Vanna White was mistaken for this reason.) But you can’t simply appropriate celebrities’ well-known attributes for advertising purposes, as demonstrated by a string of cases won by Woody Allen, Tom Waits, and Bette Midler.
Nothing ever identifies the actress featured in Old Navy’s music-video-themed spot as anyone other than Kardashian, and there are plenty of hints that it really is her. For one, the ad repeatedly emphasizes her rear end, famously one of the actual Kardashian’s most significant assets. It also portrays her getting a mani-pedi, reading tabloids, and flirting her way out of a traffic ticket. And it’s all set to a horrible pop song of just the sort that the real Kim would record. Sounds like a Kardashian sister to me!
Moreover, there is plenty of indication that the actress, Melissa Molinaro, and the ad’s producers were aware of the similarity and exploiting it. The Post story quotes a tweet from Old Navy’s official Twitter account when the ad first aired in February: “@CBSNEWS reports that Old Navy’s Super CUTE star looks like @kimkardashian. #LOL. What do you think?” At times, Molinaro has coquettishly denied the resemblance — “It’s just crazy to me because I think I look like Melissa Molinaro,” she told E! News — but she also is styled to maximize the resemblance in the ad. And perhaps the strongest circumstantial evidence is the bizarre twist that Molinaro is now dating football star Reggie Bush — who was with Kardashian until after the ad aired. Ahem.
By the way, if you are one of those pop culture refuseniks who has never heard of Kim Kardashian (though she’s pretty hard to avoid, I must say), to get up to speed you can’t do much better than Wikipedia’s dry wit summarizing her career:
Kardashian has launched multiple fragrances, guest starred on numerous shows, competed on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars, and has had roles in movies such as Disaster Movie and Deep in the Valley. In 2010, Kardashian, along with her sisters Kourtney and Khloé, released an autobiography, Kardashian Konfidential, and plan to launch their own fashion line.