This 15 minute Quebec documentary about how a small Quebec-based soap maker took on and ultimately defeated a large food company raises some interesting and important questions about marketing and social media.
Essentially, the Deborah Kudzman’s woes started when the juice manufacturer, Lassonde Industries Inc. of Rougemont, Quebec, sought a Cease and Desist order for her use of their “Oasis” trademark. She successfully argued the case in Quebec Superior Court, even winning punitive damages. But the company (in my opinion fairly) — while accepting the court’s decision about the trademark, took on the Kudzman by appealing the punitive damages decision to the Quebec Court of Appeal.
The appeals court judges reversed the lower court decision, meaning Kudzman had effectively won a worthless victory; the legal costs had drained her and left her heavily in debt.
Here is where the story gets interesting. She went to the local daily newspaper, La Presse (this is in a French-language market) and the writer produced a sympathetic story. Then social media took over — and a massive consumer boycott against Oasis took hold within hours.
Within days, the company agreed to a settlement, effectively paying the legal costs that it would have had to pay if the original court decision had been upheld.
I realize this David and Goliath story may have relatively limited relevance to most of this blog’s readers. In this context, social media has incredible power because of the ability of individual consumers to mobilize and respond quickly and the fact there is virtually no cost to them in causing harm to the big corporation. (There are plenty of other juice brands out there; you don’t lose anything by boycotting the offending brand.)
Also note how “conventional” media had a vital role as a catalyst in the publicity storm. Finally, we should respect the power of perseverance –most small businesses would rationally cave and quit under the onslaught of legal costs that this type of action causes.
Lessons to learn:
- In determining your brand and name, take some basic precautions to make sure you won’t step on the toes of the brand/identity of the big corporations. (If your name is McDonald you might well rightfully operate McDonald construction, but if you specialize in building fast food restaurants and you shape your logo like the Golden Arches, be prepared for the lawyers!)
- Recognize that if you do something really stupid in the public sphere, your brand can be obliterated within days through a social media firestorm. In other words, anything really bad you do will magnify and spread out of control, almost instantly. Simple answer, as Google asserts: “Don’t be evil.”
- Finally, we should see things in context and perspective. If you conduct your business with integrity and respect, with a dose of common sense and reasonableness, you won’t run into major problems and, if they occur, you may find you have the upper edge when push comes to shove in the battle for public opinion and resolution.
Have you experienced challenges or questions about your trademark, and how did you resolve them, if you did. You can communicate by posting a comment here or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.