At first glance, it appeared to be a total branding disaster. A photo of the Luka Magnotta on the Web site of the Montreal Gazette showed the notorious serial killer clutching a bottle of one of Canada’s best known brew, the Labatt Blue.
The company had no idea there was more to come.
Charlie Angelakos, vice president of corporate affairs for Labatt Breweries said the company’s initial reaction was to move quickly to disassociate its product with the infamous Magnotta. On June 2012, they sent an email to the Montreal Gazette asking the publication to replace the photo. Labatt thought it was the sensible thing to do and it was not prepared for what would happen next.
“Our intentions were good, but the fallout certainly was not. Where did we go wrong,” asked Angelekos in an article he wrote for the daily the Globe and Mail in which he detail the social media lessons learned by Labatt during the unfortunate incident.
Instead their request turned into a social media nightmare, as the letter they sent to the Gazette got picked up by media and it became the news story.
Labatt’s main intention was the get the photo out of circulation and protect the reputation of its Labatt Blue brand which has been around since 1951. It was a brand worth protecting, the brewery itself has been in operation since 1847, 20 years before Canada became a country, Angelekos pointed out.
Angelekos said the letter asked the Gazette to consider using another photo. On hindsight, he said, Labatt should have “left it there.”
“…unfortunately we lapsed into ‘legalese’ with an approach commonly used to underscore the seriousness of the request,” the executive said. This made it appear that Labatt was asking the Gazette to censor itself for Labatt’s business purposes,” Angelekos.
This certainly did not put Labatt in a good light when the story, which the Globe and Mail first broke, was spread about in the social media.
Labatt’s efforts to protect its brand from being shown in a negative light, he said, “ended up doing just that.” The company also never expected that with social media, the speed and severity of bad news increased exponentially.
Looking back, Angelekos said, Labatt’s reaction ran counter to the company’s values. Despite enduring negative press in the past, the company always valued unbiased press, he said.
The episode, he said was a “lesson in humility” and thought Labatt that it should have more faith in the public, its customers and its brand.