For the past three weeks, Justin Bieber‘s gigantic mug has loomed over a Goodwill store just a short walk from my Los Angeles office.
“Why is Justin Bieber so sad?” trumpeted the massive billboard on Pico Boulevard. “Could it be because 24 percent of teens who want a job can’t find one? Teen unemployment makes us all sad. Unfortunately, raising the minimum wage will only make things worse.”
The people behind the campaign, a fiscally conservative D.C. think tank called the Employment Policies Institute, estimated to me today that, thanks to intense media coverage, that billboard has been seen by north of 9 million people.
And yet this week, the image mysteriously disappeared–replaced with a Dee-Snyder-esque Amanda Bynes. “Is Amanda Bynes wigging out about teen unemployment?” the copy now reads. “The real scandal this summer isn’t the tabloid exploits of a former child star, but that 24 percent of teens who want a job can’t find one.”
The motive of the fiscally-conservative group is clear: Get the gossips — like me — to somehow launch a discussion on current minimum wage policy. As for the change in poster child, I am told it’s no coincidence. “We had to take it down,” research director Michael Saltzman says of the Bieber billboard. “[His attorneys] sent us a cease-and-desist.”
Yes, the EPI had paid Getty Images for the right to use that particular Bieber image, but, as Saltzman told me, “It was a judgment call on our part. We were not attributing anything to Justin, we weren’t saying or implying any particular endorsement by him. But the billboard had been up for three weeks, and the conversation we’d wanted to start had occurred, and we’d accomplished what we’d set out to do.”
And yet, despite the legal hand-slapping, the EPI has decided to use the same tactic again: using a legally-purchased image of Bynes, but not her legally-purchased permission.
Unlike megastar Bieber, Bynes isn’t quite so likely to have a squadron of power lawyers armed with their own cease-and-desist machine. I asked Saltzman if that’s why EPI chose her as its new unwitting spokeswoman. “We here at EPI, I wouldn’t say we’re particularly savvy about which celebrities are more connected than others,” Saltzman told me. “We felt that people were talking about Amanda, she’s in the news right now.”
As for what Bynes has to say about this, I reached out to her on Twitter. No reaction as of yet.