Magnotta murder leaves booze brands embroiled in PR crises

Brands are feeling the pressure in the wake of Luka Rocco Magnotta murder allegations. As people worldwide scour social media and newspapers for the latest in the murder that left one Concordia University student dead, brands are feeling the pain in a different way. Magnotta Wine and Labatt Blue are both facing PR crises as a result of the gruesome, explicit and shocking killing.

Magnotta Wine

Through no fault of its own, Magnotta, a producer of wine, winemaking juice and beer, has become embroiled in a public relations disaster as a result of the “Canadian Psycho” murder. Bearing the unfortunate circumstance of sharing a company (and family) name with the alleged killer, Magnotta has found itself buried in Google search results and forever associated with the murder. For many unfamiliar with the company, it seems obvious to conclude that they are related. Wondering what you do in a situation like this? PR pros weighed in on the matter earlier this week.

My two cents: Magnotta should believe in their brand. They’ve invested in their brand and in their customers and should trust that this will blow over. They should release a short statement on all of their channels expressing their regrets for the situation while also making it clear they’re not involved or related. In the future, they should focus on gaining positive media attention to drive down negative search results.

Labatt Blue

Upon noticing that the Montreal Gazette had included the above photo of alleged killer Luka Rocco Magnotta in its story on the murder, Labatt Blue demanded the photo be pulled. Apparently fearing a similar fate to that experienced by Magnotta Wines, the request Labatt made in an attempt to preserve its brand ultimately resulted in a PR blunder. Whereas most reading the article wouldn’t originally have given Magnotta’s beer of choice a second thought, it’s now noted in our collective memory of the murder coverage.

“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 Gazetteexplained 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,” – Charlie Angelakos, VP corporate affairs, Labatt (emailed statement)

Although the company later rescinded its requests, the backlash had already taken off on Twitter. Resident Twitter troublemaker and National Post columnist Andrew Coyne birthed the hashtag #newlabattcampaign, spawning thousands of sarcastic responses. While a brand’s gut reaction might be to protect itself at all costs, there is something to be said for keeping silent on what will ultimately turn out to be a non-issue.

The moral of the story: Current events can have more of an impact on your brand than you’d think. Always be prepared, but don’t jump the gun. The only thing worse than being embroiled in a PR crisis you didn’t create is jumping the gun and creating one for yourself.

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