When Toronto’s Globe and Mail newspaper ran a story on drug-addled porn actor cannibal murderer Luke Magnotta a few weeks ago, it used a photo of the guy holding a bottle of Labatt beer. The company objected, issuing a statement that the image was “highly denigrating to our brand” and threatening legal action if it wasn’t swapped for a non-branded shot. A torrent of snarky Tweets ensued and then Labatt retracted its threat.
So what’s the lesson here? I think there are a few:
The Streisand Effect still applies. Named after the singer tried to keep photos of her Malibu mansion secret — and it promptly made everyone look for it — it’s likely that your complaint about something will generate more attention than the something did.
Brands aren’t private property. You may own the design of a logo but you certainly can’t dictate where it will show up. Terrorists and mass murderers wear branded merch, whether in news photos or movie sets. Deal with it.
Online storms last a nanosecond. You can imagine the social monitoring dashboards on fire at Labatt corporate HQ when the pic first appeared online. It’s like watching your hair grow through an electron microscope. You see big things but when you pull away and blink you realize it’s nothing.
Don’t let lawyers dictate PR strategy. Communicators have always faced the conundrum that successful legal strategy rarely has any connection to sales or marketing success, and usually detracts from both. If the top PR person at the company didn’t go ballistic over the initial statement, he or she should be fired.
Ultimately, the event was a missed opportunity for the brand to talk to the world. I sure hope the Labatt braintrust at least considered such actions as:
Doubled down on the lawsuit. You know, Labatt had a legitimate gripe with the photo. The guy was holding the bottle up as if he were a celeb endorser, and it was the only photo available to the newspaper? So it could have stuck to its guns and actively responded to every snippy Tweet with something equally snarky, like “would you want your face or name pictured next to an alleged murdered? Give us a break (and buy a beer while you’re at it).”
Mounted a ‘take back our brand’ campaign. So let’s assume that a pic of a nutjob with a bottle of Labatt actually mattered..why couldn’t the company have gone out to its customers and implored them to post pics of themselves with their beer so as to wrest control of the brand from ‘the bad guy?’
Done some culture-jamming of its own. OK, forget legit positioning. Labatt could have produced a slew of content featuring its bottle and logo Photoshopped into a variety of unlikely pics. Joseph Stalin sipping a Blue. Bottles lined up behind a Khmer Rouge show trial. It would have prompted UGC and lots of conversation…and the actually connection between the brand and any of those users/locations would have been obliterated by satire.
No matter what it did or didn’t do, I think Labatt sales will come in at the exact same level they would have had the event never occurred. If only the social media experience registered any lasting effect. There can’t be anything such as “good social” if there’s no proof of any “bad.”
A social faux pas doesn’t necessarily translate into a legitimate business issue.