Diary: Nestle burned by instant coffee model

Russell Christoff's trip to his local shopping mall looks like leaving Nestle with a whopping bill. A total of $15.6 million, to be precise.

That is the sum a US court has ordered the company to pay Christoff for using his picture to promote one of its coffee brands - and all for a lousy $250 photo session fee.

That was all Christoff was paid when he was working as an advertising model 16 years ago.

A Nestle executive saw the picture in 1997 and put it forward for use in marketing materials promoting its Taster's Choice freeze-dried coffee brand across the US, Mexico and Japan.

Fatally, Nestle failed to check the picture's usage rights. However, it might have got away with the gaffe had Christoff not stumbled on the jars during his shopping trip.

Now the company has been left with a bitter taste in its mouth by a judge, who ordered it to pay out $300,000 for the use of Christoff's likeness and a whopping 5 per cent of sales profits on the product between 1997 and 2003. And guess what - Nestle's going to appeal.

Why did it take five years to come to light, Diary hears you ask. Christoff explains it was because he never drinks instant coffee, only freshly ground.

Could something similar happen to an advertiser in the UK? M'learned friends at the media law firm Lewis Silkin don't rule it out if usage rights are not sorted out at an early stage. "Everything is bigger in the US, including awards damages, but that is not to say that a similiar claim could not have sued here," it says. Advertisers: it's time to wake up and smell the coffee.