On Sunday, June 3, 2012, the Montreal Gazette published a story about internationally sought and alleged killer Luka Magnotta. The kicker was that the picture that accompanied the article was from Magnotta’s Facebook page and featured him holding a Labatt beer in a very visible manner. Labatt took offence to the photo and referred to it as being “highly denigrating” to the Labatt Blue brand and requested it’s removal from the website or face legal action.
The Gazette responded that their “editorial decisions are governed by what is newsworthy and what is in the public interest and it’s not dictated by commercial considerations.” With that Labatt accepted this position and withdrew the legal threat. This is where it gets interesting.
Whether or not it was the right photo to use, The Gazette took the journalistic stance and this in itself became newsworthy. Soon enough it became a hot topic on twitter with the hash tag of #newlabattcampaign. Memes (viral topics with text on an image) became rampant and a search on Google will give you thousands of hits on “magnotta Labatt”.
So what went wrong? Obviously the legal team at Labatt were more focused on the interpreted threat than the reality of such action as a letter of outrage and the threat of legal action could take. The grounds that they were on where shaky at best. The photo was in the public domain and all that Labatt did was call attention to itself.
Had they left the issue be, it would have been a one day item at most. By walking on a thin legal point on a onetime news item, they left the door open for the story to explode and inflict great damage to themselves. One has to wonder if the brand manager was in control of the issue and if the aspect of the immediacy of sharing and the viral nature of memes through social media even entered into the discussion before Labatt took action.
In today’s world your brand will be shown in inappropriate situations by individuals whose photos become public domain. It is how you choose to respond to those circumstances that will determine if you only stoke the flame or let the embers die on their own.
Sometimes the quiet ones do win the race.