Ellen Degeneres Not Amused By Photog’s Billboard Stunt

An artist's rendering of the billboard Madalyn Ruggiero attempted to put up for six weeks in West Hollywood.

Artist's rendering of the billboard Madalyn Ruggiero attempted to put up for six weeks in West Hollywood.

Television personality and talk show host Ellen Degeneres—and her show’s lawyers—were not amused by an Ohio freelance photographer’s recent publicity stunt, and their legal action has cost the photographer thousands of dollars.

Photographer Madalyn Ruggiero created a small business by putting costumes on her dog, Denali, photographing him, then selling greeting cards bearing the images. Buoyed by the success of her cards and Denali’s 27,000+ Facebook fans, Ruggiero bought billboard space in West Hollywood in an attempt to get Ellen Degeneres to put Denali on her TV talk show. “Ellen,” the billboard read, “Denali the dog wants to meet you!”

Just days after the billboard went up on February 13, the show’s lawyers ordered the billboard company to take it down because, they argued, it traded on Degeneres’s name and likeness (Ruggiero dressed Denali up to look like Degeneres for the billboard).

Ruggiero says that the billboard company’s lawyers sought and received approval from Warner Brothers, which owns and produces Degeneres’ show, prior to putting up the billboard. The ad should have been displayed for six weeks but was up for only a few days.

“I was shocked and confused why my harmless billboard was removed,” Ruggiero says. “When I spoke with the billboard company they were very cold and told me nothing.”

The LA Times, Today Show and MSNBC have all published stories about Ruggiero’s run-in with Degeneres’ lawyers.

“I meant no harm with my billboard,” Ruggiero explains. “I am disappointed and confused. Denali is getting old and I thought trying to get Denali on Ellen’s would be fun. I always thought she was a huge dog lover, but I was mistaken.”

Now Ruggiero is out thousands of dollars for a publicity stunt gone awry. Should Ruggiero have known better? Maybe. Should we be surprised that Degeneres responded with legal threats rather than a sense of humor? Probably not.

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12 Responses to “Ellen Degeneres Not Amused By Photog’s Billboard Stunt”

  1. Mead Norton Says:

    Just goes to show the Ellen Degeneres does not have a sense of humor and takes herself way too seriously!!!

  2. Ronnie Says:

    Ellen was not in the wrong. Ellen is an avid dog lover. I just dont think she likes attention seeking people.

  3. Janice Glazier Says:

    still trying to figure this one out. Was Ellen insulted by the image? I am sure it was not done with any intended malice.
    I think this gives ua a true glimpse into the real Ellen. very disappointing. Conan had this happen to him and he put the kids on his show. Denali is an adorable sweet dog and his photographer owner is very talented with a lovely light sense of humor. This whole thingis silly.

  4. Trisha Walter Says:

    I’ve been a fan of Denali and Ms. Ruggiero for a couple of years on facebook. She does have a lovely lighthearted sense of humor. Denali greeting cards are such sweet line that anyone can see the humor in them. Denali facebook page is very heartwarming. It will always make you smile. Then you read the caption and you laugh out loud. This is Ellen’s lose, what a faker.

  5. Ken T. Says:

    I have to imagine that there are plenty of law firms that would have been eager to chase Ellen with a first amendment suit on a contingency basis. That is until the dope photographer opened his bazoo to the press. I don’t see “Ellen Degeneres” anywhere on this sign. Am I missing it?

  6. Todd Says:

    I think the photographer was wrong to try and get attention in this manner as it puts her in the league of attention seeking artists who are desperate to be seen. Their are numerous ways she could have gotten the attention of Ellen without a very costly billboard as it now has drawn the wrong kind of attention to her campaign. I mean really, is she that desperate to get on the Ellen show?

  7. PaulB Says:

    ” it traded on Degeneres’s name and likeness (Ruggiero dressed Denali up to look like Degeneres for the billboard).” I mean, REALLY, a DOG!??
    I wasn’t aware of this until now and it caused two immediate actions: I ordered a couple of boxes of cards from DenalitheDog website and I deleted the Degeneres recordings and future recordings from my DVR!
    As photographer we all do things to get our services noticed by prospective clients.

  8. Jon Woodbury Says:

    Ridiculous if you ask me. I think it fits pretty squarely into the realm of parody and fair use. SNL doesn’t get sued every time it plays on the “likeness” of an individual. Whether Ruggiero SHOULD have done it is not the debate here, the debate is whether you can legally trademark a common American first name and a hair style.

  9. Photography Blog Says:

    Amazing dogs photography, thanks for sharing!

  10. Laurene Mavraganis Says:

    No problem, it may be a phasing issue on our end, it has got us before where you have the audio pretty much drop out or is very low. Only affect mono playback as I recall. It sounds OK when I run it here so will keep an eye out.

  11. leader Says:

    Sweet learned something newtoday now I’m good for now. Best!

  12. patent Says:

    OK Guys-Yeah, I forgot about mushroom hunting and Sprint Cars at PARAGON & BLOOMINGTON!!!