Judge, jury and executioner

Over the past week or so, I’ve been watching an interesting battle develop between two companies, across several facets of social media.

Some of you may be aware that a brewer and a large drinks company in the US have been squaring up over the issue of a trademark dispute. The brewer submitted a trademark application, and as I’ve been led to believe is common in the States, the drinks company issued a ‘cease and desist’ order to the brewer, over similarities to one of their product names. The companies in question were Rock Art (the brewer), and Hansen (the parent company of Monster Energy – the big black can with the green claw mark on the side).

Now, on reading this last week, my personal viewpoint was to side with the brewer, largely due to the very convincing video on their website (see below), and the fact that at face value, Hansen’s demand was completely ridiculous. It may well be ridiculous, I’m not judging whether or not either side is right, that’s not the reasoning behind this post. I’ll put the link to the Facebook group up at the end, and you can decide for yourself based on the letters and emails between the two parties, which are all online.

My main point is about how social media has played a part in this. The brewery has a Facebook group of 12,000 people backing them, people writing (perhaps venting is a more appropriate word) their feelings on Twitter (#boycottmonster and #fuckmonster, for example). The volume of information and opinion against Monster has been phenomenal, and the mainstream press have been all to keen to pick up the story.

The net result of this is that before Monster even had a chance to respond, the ranks of people out for their blood had swollen to huge numbers. I’ve even been reading of athletes sponsored by the company ditching their deals due to how they feel the company has behaved… It’s not a small blip by any sense of the word. What I am judging is the comparative ability of the two organisations to use social media to their advantage. The brewer has clearly won the day in this respect, and whether due to unfamiliarity with the ideas of social media or their necessity to adhere to corporate standards and regulations, Monster now arguably look like a bunch of arseholes.

What I question here is whether this is an example of the good of social media, allowing a little business to stand up in the face of a big company, and strike a serious blow without costing them a fortune in legal fees, or is it an example of a very negative fact – the unbridled nature of the medium meaning that all that seems to matter is getting your point out there first, and getting enough people behind you to believe it. In this case, the public, via social media, has acted as judge, jury, and executioner, and there’s very little Monster can do about it, regardless of who turns out to be right at the end of this legal argument. In the eyes of social media – whether correctly or incorrectly – Monster are in the wrong.

Could they ever have won through social media? Who knows. In a David vs. Goliath situation like this, everyone seems to like the underdog, so a large company will always struggle to get people on their side. So as I said, I’m not saying either side is right or wrong any more – objectively, I doubt I have the required grounding in the matters at hand to make an informed decision. What’s clear is that any business who sees Twitter, Facebook et al as a fad, or just for the kids, is playing with fire.

Rock Art vs. Monster Facebook Page

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