1. You Don’t Own Your Brand
A company can create a marketplace position for their brand. A company can make promises about their brand. A company can buy ads to reinforce their position and promise. However, a company doesn’t decide what the brand means for their customers.
In the case of Labatt, their brand tagline is “Bringing the good stuff to loyal fans by continuing the brewing tradition since 1847.” So how does (allegedly) threatening legal action against a newspaper serve to prove that Labatt’s is “bringing the good stuff to loyal fans?”
This is a great example of a fundamental law of marketing – A brand’s reputation is decided in the hearts and minds of their consumers.
Match your company actions to your promise. The only people Labatt really needs to worry about are their fans. As long as the fans know that the company has their back, then it doesn’t matter what is said or posted in the press. Labatt Blue has 35,000+ Facebook fans. Showing a little love to their people and explaining the company’s disappointment with the image would have served two purposes. First, it would have gone further in generating support than (allegedly) threatening legal action and second, it serves as proof to their loyal fans that Labatt is all about bringing the good stuff.
2. Mitigate Risk Using Newton’s First Law of Motion
Newton (and Julius Sumner Miller) said that bodies at rest tend to stay at rest unless acted upon by an external force. Mitigating risk under these conditions meant having the foresight to leave the Blue-Magnotta image alone. It was a non-issue until Labatt acted as the external force and brought attention to the image.
Like so many other companies, Labatt has successfully placed their logo on nearly every square inch of Canada. Tshirts, bags, signs, restaurants, towels, concerts are all fair game. I’m sure Labatt would put their logo on a crispwhite mountain if they could buy one and really, who could blame them for trying.
Nobody can plan for the unexpected. Thats why it’s called unexpected when a brand becomes associated with a murderer.
Lesson: Brand association with a murderer was as likely to happen to Labatt as it is with Disney, Molson or Lexus or any other company that gives away branded swag. In general, the improbability of this association shifts public support on the side of the brand. Legal action by Labatt seemed to be the external force powerful enough to break the inertia of the public sympathy. If the brand has real concerns, they could get a pulse on the issue by opening discussion with their loyal fans before taking legal action.
3. This Too Shall Soon Pass
If people didn’t care about your brand, they wouldn’t be talking about it. While Labatt may be caught up in the maelstrom of dark-humor Tweets, there are lifeboats emerging. In fact, Labatt has a growing number of supporters surfacing from this debacle. Boyd Neil @boydneil, the Social Media Practice Leader at communications firm Hill & Knowlton points pointed out to me that “lots of PR lessons will be given by social web pundits and eventually sound thinking will prevail”.
Lesson: Consumers are intelligent. They can offer a variety of unique opinions. Listen to all of them and make heroes out of your supporters.
Further Reading On This Story
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