A little more than six years ago, Sara Rosso, an American blogger who lives in Italy, started World Nutella Day, a tribute to the chocolate and hazelnut spread. It’s turned into a popular event, with more than 40,000 “likes” on Facebook.
It seems Ferrero, the Italian company that makes Nutella, wasn’t a big booster of the event, and last week attorneys from the company sent Rosso a cease-and-desist order.
Rosso didn’t post the text of the order, but upon receiving the notice on May 16 she did post a now-deleted message stating that she would be shutting down the World Nutella Day website and all its associated social media presences by May 25.
“The cease-and-desist letter was a bit of a surprise and a disappointment, as over the years I’ve had contact and positive experiences with several employees of Ferrero, SpA., and with their public relations and brand strategy consultants, and I’ve always tried to collaborate and work together in the spirit and goodwill of a fan-run celebration of a spread I (to this day) still eat,” she wrote.
World Nutella Day fans on Facebook were less diplomatic in their statements about the company.
“They’re crazy,” one commenter wrote. “Do they not know good publicity when they see it? Well — clearly not. Idiots.”
That seemed to be the end of the story until news of Ferrero’s order hit news sources such as Businessweek and Time on Tuesday. Seemingly in response to the publicity, Ferrero reached out to Rosso and released a statement, pretty clearly translated from Italian, stating that it would no longer oppose World Nutella Day.
“The case arose from a routine brand defense procedure that was activated as a result of some misuse of the Nutella brand on the fan page,” the statement said. “Ferrero is pleased to announce that today, after contacting Sara Rosso and finding together the appropriate solutions, it immediately stopped the previous action.”
Rosso quickly deleted her post about the possible end of World Nutella Day and replaced it with a post stating that the observance would continue in 2014. She even said she’s not mad at Ferrero.
“I wish it hadn’t happened in the first place, but I’m pleased at the speed of resolution and that the site and holiday will continue,” she wrote.
Facebook commenters were mostly celebratory in regards to the turnaround, though some griped that the cease-and-desist order should have never gone out in the first place, and that Ferrero should have linked the World Nutella Day website in its statement.
The big lesson from all this, according to Jonathan Bernstein of Bernstein Crisis Management, is that corporate attorneys just shouldn’t threaten private citizens without considering the PR outcomes. Robert Holland of Holland Communication Solutions adds that it’s a sign of a changing media landscape.
“Ten years ago, World Nutella Day probably wouldn’t have gained such traction and this matter wouldn’t be news,” he says.
Likewise, the story proves that relationships between customers and brands are changing, too, Holland says.
“The automatic legal response triggered by Rosso’s use of the Nutella name and images just doesn’t cut it today,” he says. “If someone at Nutella had been aware of what Rosso was doing, this embarrassing situation for the brand probably would not have happened.”
That said, Bernstein posits that Ferrero pulling back its order for the holiday to end will likely prevent the company’s reputation from being hurt too badly.
“Nutella’s amends-making message and action with Rosso were quite appropriate and I don’t believe there will be any long-term damage to their brand,” he says.
Matt Wilson is a staff writer for Ragan.com.