To protect brand, Labatt threatens lawsuit over ‘body parts killer’ pic

Did the Canadian brewer in effect hurt its brand by threatening to sue the Montreal Gazette?

Alleged “body parts killer” Luka Magnotta has sparked more than international intrigue. He’s also incited a marketing controversy and viral Twitter campaign in Canada, thanks to a photo of him drinking a Labatt Blue that appeared in the press.

Labatt threatened to sue the Montreal Gazette unless the paper removed a photo of Magnotta from its website that clearly shows the Labatt label on his beer bottle. The paper took the photo from Magnotta’s public Facebook page.

In a letter to the Gazette, a Labatt attorney wrote,

“As I am sure you can understand, this image is highly denigrating to our brand, and we are disturbed that this image remains on your site despite repeated requests and the many images available of this person.”

Labatt’s prompted plenty of sarcastic ridicule on Twitter, including its own hashtag: #newlabattcampaign. Included are such remarks as “#newlabattcampagin I would give an arm and a leg for a Labatt Blue.”

Bloggers are pointing to the “Streisand effect,” which derives from celebrity Barbara Streisand’s attempt to suppress photographs and information about her sprawling Malibu residence. The result was simply more widespread publicity.

Yesterday, Labatt’s vice president of corporate affairs, Charlie Angelakos released a statement backing off of the lawsuit threat:

“Our goal was simply to protect our brand. Given the serious nature of the underlying story, we decided it was important to request that an alternate photo be used. Once the Gazette explained their position, we promptly thanked them for their response, dropped the matter and we will not be following up further. We accept the Gazette‘s position.”

Labatt isn’t the first Canadian brand to stumble into controversy as a result of the “body parts killer.” Last week, Backcheck, a company that checks backgrounds, and its PR firm, Fleishman Hillard Canada, drew criticism for a press release that tied Backcheck’s services to the story about the killer. Both companies apologized.

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