Labatt won’t sue newspaper for running photo of alleged cannibal holding its beer

The Globe and Mail | Digital Journal | Ottawa Citizen
The real victim in the ghastly Luka Magnotta case? The Labatt Brewing Company, which was chagrined the Montreal Gazette illustrated a story about Magnotta with a photo of the alleged murderer and cannibal holding a Labatt’s Blue, which it took from Magnotta’s Facebook page. The Globe and Mail reported Tuesday that the beer company threatened to sue the paper if it didn’t change the image:

“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,” Karyn Sullivan, Labatt’s associate general counsel, wrote in a letter to the Gazette.

The posturing did not deliver the intended result: “Once the story broke, it took a life of its own on social media,” Leigh Goessl writes. The National Post’s Andrew Coyne created the hashtag #newlabattcampaign, offering Canadian wags a digital fence with which to surround jokes about the brand.

Here’s The Inevitable Storify. Labatt walked back its threat. Goessl quotes a company statement:

“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,” said Labatt’s vice-president of corporate affairs, Charlie Angelakos said in a statement. “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.”

Writing in the Ottawa Citizen, Dan Gardner displays some sympathy for Labatt’s panicked response, quoting from psychological research about “contagion.” But because of the high volume of coverage of the Magnotta case, “It’s a safe bet,” he writes, that the Gazette photo “was going to slide into obscurity.” Until the company made a big deal about it. “It’s curious that a corporation with a sophisticated understanding of the psychology of brands could be so incredibly dumb,” Gardner writes.

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