TORONTO – Labatt Brewing Company backtracked Tuesday on a fight to get a photo of Luka Rocco Magnotta holding its beer off a newspaper’s website, but not before becoming the butt of morbid social media jokes.
The brewer sent a letter to the Montreal Gazette on Monday, asking the paper to remove from its website a photo it found “highly denigrating” to its brand.
Karyn Sullivan, a lawyer for Labatt, wrote in the letter that the company was “disturbed” the Gazette had not removed the photo — taken from Magnotta’s Facebook page — of the alleged killer holding a bottle of Labatt Blue, despite several prior requests from Labatt.
“We will continue to look into all options available to ensure removal of this image, including all legal avenues if required,” Sullivan wrote.
“Nevertheless, we hope that a publication such as the Montreal Gazette would understand that this matter is of utmost importance to our company, and, given the number of other options available not containing a brand image, would remove the image of its own volition.”
The Gazette said it would not take the photo down, as it is not in the habit of altering or censoring photos unless legally required to do so, for example in the case of a victim of sexual assault.
“Our editorial decisions are governed by what is newsworthy and what is in the public interest and it’s not dictated by commercial considerations,” Gazette lawyer Mark Bantey said.
Labatt backed off Tuesday, with the vice-president of corporate affairs saying the company won’t be pursuing the issue.
“Once the Gazette explained their position, we promptly thanked them for their response, dropped the matter and we will not be following up further,” Charlie Angelakos wrote in a statement.
“Our goal was simply to protect our brand.”
But in doing so, Labatt ended up drawing more attention to the photo, linked to a days-old news story on the paper’s website.
Twitter users soon pounced on the public relations bungle, as #newlabattcampaign became a trending topic on the social media network, meaning it was one of the most discussed topics in Canada for a time.
Black humour flooded the topic stream as people used dismemberment puns and murder references to suggest macabre new slogans for Labatt.
Some expressed sympathy for the rough day the people in Labatt’s PR department were likely having, some marvelled at Labatt’s decision to bring the matter up in the first place, while others still seized the chance to make non-gory jokes at Labatt’s expense.
“Thx to Labatt pointing out how Magnotta was drinking a Blue, I can’t not associate Magnotta with Blue,” one user posted. “Congrats Labatt. #newlabattcampaign”
The tenuous connection likely would not have stuck in consumers’ minds, if it weren’t for the mini-firestorm created by Labatt itself, said Ken Wong, a marketing professor at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont.
“Consumers don’t form an opinion or make an association based on that kind of a casual connection,” Wong said. “I’m sure no one would have paid any attention to it had they not drawn attention to it.”