Labatt Breweries quickly learned a brutal lesson in social media marketing and PR after a legal threat against the Montreal Gazette, over the paper’s use of a photo depicting accused killer Luka Magnotta holding a bottle of Blue, transformed into a Twitter backlash mocking the beer company.
The Globe and Mail reported that Labatt had threatened to sue the Gazette unless it took down the photo, believing the association could be disastrous to its brand. Turns out, the threat has done more damage than the photo ever would.
In a letter to the Gazette, Labatt’s associate general counsel Karyn Sullivan wrote, “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.”
I don’t always drink beer after dismembering a corpse, but when I do, I drink Blue. #newlabattcampaign
— Andrew Coyne (@acoyne) June 5, 2012
And then Twitter struck. Well, specifically, National Post columnist Andrew Coyne. Coyne, mocking the brand’s overzealous concern — why would anyone seriously associate the longstanding beer brand with the killer? — started the hashtag #newlabattcampaign, which quickly took off to become a top trending topic in Canada.
Cultural associations and media depiction can have a significant affect on brand reputation, whether over a period of time — see Burberry vs. Chavs — or in a single newscast. Many believe the Ford Bronco was…er, killed by OJ Simpson. The similarities between Ford/OJ and Labatt/Magnotta end at both being big brands and high profile crimes. The difference that Labatt should have recognized is that OJ’s car chase was on national prime time TV, while Magnotta’s Facebook pic appeared in one city newspaper, a single image amid a sea of others in widespread international coverage. Now, thanks to its over-enthusiastic response, Labatt is the laughingstock du jour.