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For Bad PR, Blame The Lawyers?


Was Shakespeare right after all?

When legal strategy contradicts PR or communications strategy, PR usually loses. Typically, it’s in high-stakes liability suits or congressional investigations where avoiding stiff legal or financial penalties is considered more important than brand or personal reputation.

But the Nutella PR mess shows that legal protocol can gum up the works even in far more trivial situations. Which is nuts. It’s enough to evoke the famous Shakespeare quote about lawyers, which, though widely misinterpreted, remains the classic complaint of many for whom legal procedure is an obstacle, including PR pros.

For those on a media starvation diet, the heartburn started when Sara Rosso, an engaged Nutella enthusiast the likes of which most brands can only dream of, launched a campaign to celebrate World Nutella Day. Rosso created a Facebook page that has attracted a community of 40,000.

Instead of thanking their #1 fan, Nutella sent her a cease-and-desist letter. Naturally, the letter prompted a backlash against the brand and its heavy-handed tactics.

To its credit, Ferrero SpA, which owns Nutella, realized its error and retracted the cease-and-desist. It explains the unfortunate letter as “routine procedure in defense of trademarks, activated following improper use of the Nutella trademark within the fan page.”

Well, whatever. The sticky situation just reinforces the importance of bringing together the  communications and legal functions when it comes to brand impact and social media. Why can’t we all just get along? Or at least be present at the table?

Nutella fans are still miffed, so the brand has some more sweet-talking to do to win back their affections. But as Shakespeare also said, “All’s well that ends well.”

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