Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Social Media PR Disasters: World Nutella Day

It’s not often that social media PR disasters have happy endings. The Kansas City Chiefs fired the person behind their insulting tweet. McDonald’s may never be able to use the Twitter hashtag #McDStories again. Songs about United Airlines' obstinance are still racking up views on YouTube. But this time a brand finally backed down and listened to its critics – and avoided a much larger crisis.

The Brand
·      17.4 million Facebook likes
·      10,280 Twitter followers
The Incident
Since 2006, blogger Sara Rosso has been promoting World Nutella Day every February 5, encouraging people around the world to try the hazelnut chocolate spread. The “holiday” is completely unofficial and is simply a result of Rosso's loyalty and love for the brand.
On May 16, seven years after the first World Nutella Day and three months after the most recent celebration, Nutella’s parent company Ferrero sent Rosso a cease-and-desist letter based on her unauthorized use of the brand’s name. She immediately posted the news on her blog and the World Nutella Day Facebook Page, saying she would shut down the relevant sites and stop promoting the holiday. Support from her fans quickly turned to anger at Ferrero.

The Problem Ferrero made no public statement and Rosso didn’t publish their cease-and-desist letter. So there was no official response from the brand to the mounting criticism. There was no explanation, no apology, and no mention of the negotiation which had quietly begun between the company and its biggest fan. The Response You can imagine what happened next. Nutella fans found the brand’s global Facebook Page and unleashed their fury.
And yet, for five days and 317 comments, Ferrero said nothing.

The Result
The story of a brand senselessly harassing one of its biggest fans – and her thousands of supporters worldwide – caught the attention of the Huffington Post, Social Media Today, and even Time magazine.

Finally, on May 22, two days before Rosso had to shut down her websites, Ferrero released a short statement on its Facebook Page. It read, in part:
“Ferrero would like to express to Sara Rosso its sincere gratitude for her passion for Nutella, gratitude which is extended to all fans of the World Nutella Day.
Ferrero is pleased to announce that today, after contacting Sara Rosso and finding together the appropriate solutions, it immediately stopped the previous action.
Ferrero considers itself fortunate to have such devoted and loyal fans of its Nutella spread, like Sara Rosso.”
Rosso posted the news on her blog as well, saying that “They were very gracious and supportive and we were able to have a productive discussion about World Nutella Day living on for the fans, which is the whole point.”
And World Nutella Day was saved.
The Takeaway
How can you avoid a similar PR disaster? It’s pretty simple:
- Respect the Superfans
Is something called “World Nutella Day” trademark infringement? I don’t think it matters. Sara Rosso loves Nutella so much that she created a special day of celebration to encourage people around the world to try it. There’s no downside to this. Ferrero should have rewarded Rosso, not punished her.
- Respond Quickly
All the public had to go on was Rosso’s blog post. No one heard Ferrero’s side of the story because it made no statements on its numerous websites or social channels. The company stayed silent even as the press picked up the story.  

- Don’t Let Legal Do the Steering
Ferrero’s legal team probably saw only a violation of trademark. The marketing department, I imagine, saw a wonderful grassroots celebration of its brand. If the two departments had discussed the matter before taking action, they might have come up with a compromise – perhaps asking Rosso to put “TM” after every mention of Nutella. Instead, the marketing and social teams were forced to deal with legal’s short-sightedness.

- Know When You’ve Made a Mistake
Ferrero expressed “gratitude” towards Rosso, but not towards her supporters, and it never apologized for its actions or its silence. Ferrero tried to excuse itself by referring to “misuse of the Nutella brand on the fan page,” whatever that means. The statement is vague and defensive, as if the company can’t quite figure out what it did wrong. But there are 317 Facebook comments telling it exactly that.

The eighth annual World Nutella Day will take place on February 5, 2014. I’ll be celebrating it. And I have a feeling Ferrero will be, too.
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