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February 05, 2007
How to create bad PR
Send a blogger and activist a snide cease-and-desist letter. That'll get attention.
That's what the National Pork Board did recently when it sent an Ohio mother, blogger and breastfeeding activist a cease-and-desist letter because she was selling t-shirts on CafePress.com with the slogan "The Other White Milk."
The Board demanded that Jennifer Laycock dismantle her store because her slogan infringed on its own slogan of "Pork: the other white meat." Her online store was set up as a fundraiser for a local breast milk bank. But that wasn't simply enough for the Pork Board; it snidely accused her of promoting breastfeeding as something "beyond infant consumption." Any sane person can tell clearly from her site that she's not. Besides, parody laws are meant to protect free speech.
So Jennifer asked her readers to spread the word about the letter, and they did. More than 300 (mostly supportive) readers reported they'd sent her story to local news outlets, Oprah, The Today Show and others. Many said they sent angry emails to the Pork Board and its law firm. Several exposed the Board's apparent hypocrisy in going after Jennifer by finding plenty of other long-lived t-shirt parodies of "the other white meat" on CafePress.
The Pork Board apparently hasn't paid attention to its peer group, the California Milk Processor Board. Its "Got Milk?" campaign has been parodied and copied everywhere, and the Milk Processor Board simply does nothing.
When parodies of your slogan propagate, it's a sign that it has struck a nerve in popular culture. A parody may mock your original intentions, but it's also a reflection of your influence. Better to smile and and take it. Parodies are ephemeral.
Jennifer reports that whithering criticism directed at the Pork Board eventually caused its CEO to apologize for the letter with a promise to work toward a resolution. Smart move. No one at the Pork Board wants to be called swine.
[Thanks to Shawn Pearson for the heads-up on the story.]
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What I love about this story is the mismatch. Big powerful pork board vs. a mom in Ohio. So who wins? The mom does. Lawyers letters can't stand up to a sympathetic figure with a blog.
Great post Jackie! If anyone is wondering what your book Citizen Marketers book is about - this case is a prime example. I love how the Internet is equalizing the playing field between consumers and corporate behemoths. Maybe one of these days large companies (especially their lawyers) will get a clue.
This is a perfect example of where an organization's law firm can undo all the great things that its marketing arm has worked so hard and spent so much money to establish.
Kudos to Jennifer!
What I would like to know is how many stories like this will it take before these corporate types finally do figure it out.
The CEO's response is weak, at absolute best. It really translates to "Using traditional PR speak, we're going to tell you that we're cleaning up our act, but really we're going to cross her name, and her name alone, off our list in the Legal Dept."
More, I say, more! Come on you can do better than that! Working towards a resolution? I'd be interested to hear what that means.
But generally we're starting to see more and more of these cases, but seemingly little lasting impact. One person is upset, creates a fire storm, company/organization says "sorry!", then we all move on, thinking that a real "resoultion" has been achieved. To me, resolution is the Legel department announcing new guidelines for how they're going to avoid situations like this, that they've seen the error of their ways. Otherwise, what good has come from any of this, save this single person getting out of hot water?
Until we get to that point, I wonder how much power the blogophere REALLY holds. (I say that somewhat for discussion, somewhat because I'm frustrated that in many ways a lasting impact isn't being felt in a huge way. Heck, maybe I'm just tired and irritated :))
Here's a question: If, for example, the Pork Board (or whoever) didn't stand up when its campaign was parodied over and over again, and someone truly offensive (obviously not this example, but in theory!) parodied it, then they tried to take that person to court... would the other person have a case in pointing out that ten zillion other people copied their slogan (trademark issue?) and thereby weaken their case? I'm not a lawyer, but very curious about how that would work. Is it possible that they send cease and desist letters to tons and tons of copycats, just so they have on record the fact that they notified these people to quit it (in order to protect themselves in case something more serious case along)?
Again, not a lawyer. But legal counsel, please advise!