The next time someone says “let’s threaten to sue them” if they don’t do what we want, have them Google “Labatt” and “cannibal” together. If that doesn’t give them pause, send them to #newlabattcampaign on Twitter. (Prepare to laugh – at Labatt’s expense.)
Talk about a social media crisis that was completely avoidable. OMG! Since the story broke earlier this week, online media have had a heyday showing not only how intimidation doesn’t work, but that using a heavy hand can bring about the very thing you most want to dodge.
A little background. News broke earlier this week that a young Canadian man, in a perverse quest for fame (he succeeded there), videotaped himself killing, dismembering and eating another young man. He then mailed various body parts to political leaders around Canada. In the media’s never-ending quest to find out more about him, they quickly came upon his Facebook page. One of the photos he had posted there was him drinking a Labatt Blue. (That’s the photo on this blog post.) Well, the Montreal Gazette grabbed the picture and posted it along with their coverage.
The Labatt’s connection to the cannibal might have ended there had it not been for what the company did next. After asking the paper politely to take down the photo, it had its attorney send a threatening letter. According to Toronto’s Globe and Mail, company legal counsel Karyn Sullivan tried the big stick approach in a formal letter delivered to the Gazette:
“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.” She went on to write that Labatt’s would pursue “legal avenues if required.” (Did someone at Labatt actually think this would work?)
The Labatt power play became a story in itself. Entirely because of what they did, the company is now tied to the cannibal all over the globe and the image will live on the Internet for years to come. Their role in the story went from being a victim by association that would be soon forgotten to an ugly reputational blunder about their attempted heavy-handed tactics. It’s a reflection of the company’s values that will remain in people’s minds for quite a while.
As one Tweeter said: “TIP OF THE DAY: If you see a murderer posing with your product, don’t draw attention to it.”
One has to wonder if Labatt had a crisis plan for dealing with social media. This is the kind of thing that you can plan for. By contrast, there was not a peep out of Disney when a photo appeared of the cannibal on the run in Paris wearing a Mickey Mouse shirt. Sometimes, it’s best to let things move past you.