Labatt Breweries is backing off a potential lawsuit against the Montreal Gazette. The beer maker had considered legal action against the newspaper over a photo the paper published of alleged killer Luka Rocco Magnotta holding a bottle of Labatt Blue.
Magnotta was arrested this week in connection with the gruesome body parts murder case in Canada.
The Montreal Gazette had run a story that was accompanied by an image of Magnotta holding a bottle of Labatt Blue, taken from the suspect's Facebook page. The brewer, concerned about its brand image, on Monday asked the Gazette to take the image down off its online story about Magnotta; the paper refused.
This did not set too well with Labatt and the brewer threatened legal action "if necessary" to have the photo removed, according to Metro News.
“As I am sure you can understand, this image is highly denigrating to our brand, and we are disturbed that this image remains on your site despite repeated requests and the many images available of this person,” wrote Karyn Sullivan, Labatt’s associate general counsel.
The Gazette had no intention of granting this request.
“The photo is newsworthy. The Gazette is not in the business of altering photos because they might offend people, and there was certainly no legal requirement to take it down,” said Mark Bantey, legal representation for the paper, told Metro News. Bantey said if Labatt pursued the matter, the newspaper would be fighting back.
This led to an even worse marketing nightmare. Once the story broke, it took a life of its own on social media. The Globe and Mail reported that Twitter users "spawned a series of tasteless jokes and fake advertising slogans" connecting Labatt with the horrific crime.
Instead of squashing the issue, #newlabattcampaign trended on Twitter yesterday with the Tweets still coming this morning.
Examples of Tweets are as "#newlabattcampaign I would give an arm and a leg for Labatt Blue," "Labatt Blue: Tastes great, less filling, and won't cost you an arm and a leg. #newlabattcampaign," and "It takes a certain kind of person to drink Labatt Blue. And if you see that person, RUN. #newlabattcampaign."
After the social media backlash, it appears Labatt backed off any potential legal action.
“Our goal was simply to protect our brand. Given the serious nature of the underlying story, we decided it was important to request that an alternate photo be used,” said Labatt’s vice-president of corporate affairs, Charlie Angelakos said in a statement. “Once the Gazette explained their position, we promptly thanked them for their response, dropped the matter and we will not be following up further. We accept the Gazette's position.”
The occurrence highlights the everyday problem businesses face when it comes to managing brands. Being social networks are a rapid and widespread way to share information, companies are often faced with a social media firestorms to put out and are frequently not easy to control.
Some marketing experts feel Labatt worsened the situation by coming after the Gazette.
Alan Middleton, a marketing professor at York University’s Schulich School of Business, told the Globe and Mail, “Anything that’s on any kind of social media gets escalated immediately,” he said. “You’ve probably got a multiple of 10 times the people who saw it originally, and they’re now sending it to 10 other people. So you have this geometric escalation.”
In scenarios such as the Magnotta photo, legal action may not always be the best course of action, but instead some savvy marketing or simply keeping quiet until it blows over. Chances are many people may not have been focused on the image of Labatt when the story ran, but now that attention has been drawn, its grown to generate a lot of unwanted attention.
"Consumers don't form an opinion or make an association based on that kind of a casual connection," Ken Wong, a marketing professor at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont. told Winnipeg Free Press. "I'm sure no one would have paid any attention to it had they not drawn attention to it."
“It’s the inexperience of marketers who used to deal with a command and control media structure …. we’ve shifted to an environment where you don’t control it,” Middleton said. “You can influence it, but you can’t control it.”