Tag Archives: Facebook

Painkillers and Product Recall

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The makers of Nurofen plus recently had to recall all remaining stock of the product, after it was discovered that some packs, in particular those in branches of Boots in Victoria, Beckenham and Bromley, contained the antipsychotic drug Seroquel. At first, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) put out a safety alert to warn people about the mistake, potentially affecting thousands of packets.     

Later, further evidence of tampering came to light in Northern Ireland, where a pack was found, this time containing the prescription medicine Neurontin, typically used to treat epilepsy.  Dr Aomest Bhatt, medical director of Neurofen Plus, said ‘We are taking this matter extremely seriously and have decided to recall all packs of Neurofen Plus as the most prudent course of action in the current circumstances. We’re asking consumers to return any packs of Nurofen Plus to a pharmacy. No other Nurofen products are affected or being recalled’.

Impact of a product failure

Nurofen has long been one of the leading Ibuprofen brands, but in addition to the financial expense incurred as a result of these incidents, a recall of all Nurofen Plus products sems likely to have a significant negative impact on the brand, and the public’s trust in Nurofen.

Product failures as high profile as this can cost companies millions, and in some cases destroy their reputations.  So far, the incidents have not been shown to result from actions of the company, and a formal investigation into the mix up is being conducted with help from the police.  But irrespective of whether any negligence is found to have occured, these events are likely to damage the brand.  The severity of the impact depends on how the recall is handled.

One criticism levelled against Reckitt Benckiser, the product’s manufacturer, was that they did not act fast enough in putting the public at ease following the discoveries. Although product recalls are invariably bad news for business, if handled correctly the damage to brand reputation might be controlled.  On the other hand, Santosh Desai, CEO of Future Brands suggests that ‘the best thing to do is not look for a quick fix solution. The healing process takes time and there’s no quick plaster’.

Inform customers at first

Jonathan Hemus, in his blog for The Drum, points out that Reckitt Benckiser provided no information about the product recall on the Nurofen website, their corporate website or their Facebook page. Hemus suggests the danger of not communicating with the public is that ‘customers turn to others for advice rather than Nurofen itself, a risky proposition in terms of reputation management.’

Nurofen has since added a statement to its websites and facebook page about the recall, but was arguably slow off the mark in doing so.

Vigilance is key to protecting the considerable investment involved in developing a brand – while Benckiser might not be at fault, the Nurofen recall may still have a major negative impact on the company as a whole.  As suggested in the Economic Times article, ‘product recall is the worst possible nightmare for every marketer’, reputation is fragile and what took years to establish, can come crashing down in hours.  No one can avoid the unforeseeable.  However, communication and engagement are key when information travels the world in milliseconds.  This is especially true in a crisis.

Facebook v. Shagbook

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Facebook has recently filed a lawsuit against Shagbook, an adult dating site. It explains that Facebook’s image would be damaged by any registration for the mark Shagbook. Shagbook is a site which allows consenting adults to make location- based searches ‘to hook up with local singles for no strings attached adult dating’.

 Shagbook is not going to take this lawsuit lying down said its founder. He claims he had been using the term ‘Shagbook’ since the year 2000 to refer to his little black book, and created his site in 2006, before Facebook became popular. Shagbook appears to be set on fighting Facebook at all costs.

 Is Facebook abusing its money power?

 Shagbook has accused Facebook of ‘trademark bullying’ and using ‘oppositions, litigation, and threats of the same to maintain a competitive market advantage’.  They state that ‘With billions of dollars in outside investment, Facebook appears to consider the court system, the United State Patent and Trademark Office and TTAB within it to be nothing more than tools it can use to fend off potential competitive threats before they actually materialize’.

 This is not the first time Facebook has gone after companies for names that are similar sounding to their own.  Last year, Teachbook suffered a lawsuit by Facebook for ‘misappropriating the distinctive BOOK portion of Facebook’s trademark’. However, the case was thrown out on a jurisdictional technicality.

 Amongst the other sites that have encountered trademark threats from Facebook, are Placebook for infringement, (which was overcome by renaming the site ‘PlacéBook’) and LameBook.  LameBook is a site parodying Facebook, so it actually decided to follow a strategy of suing Facebook first, which Facebook responded to by suing back.

 ‘Facebook’- Not distinctive enough?

 Shagbook is now planning on using Facebook’s history of trademark disputes against them, claiming that the term FACEBOOK itself is generic.  It argues that the Facebook trademark should never have been granted.

 The accusations of genericity go back to the history of the term ‘FACEBOOK’. Although currently the word ‘Facebook’ is synonymous with the Social Networking site, the term has been around before Facebook was even created. It has been used for decades to describe publications created by students, faculty and universities. Facebooks often contained pictures and limited biographical data.

 According to theRegister.co.uk, the term ‘FACEBOOK’ has been used since 1983, whereas the social networking site was set up in 2004, 20 years later.

 Shagbook argues that moving these facebooks online was just a natural progression.

 Facebook’s accusation that Shagbook has violated Facebook’s trademark, is based on the reasoning that the site’s name is similar in ‘appearance, sound meaning, and commercial impression’, and accuses the site of trying to ‘trade off the fame of Facebook’.                      

 Shagbook’s response is that their site cannot be confused with Facebook’s, as Facebook has often made it clear that it is not a dating site in its marketing strategies, and has even removed individuals who have been using the site as a ‘dating site’. Shagbook believes that therefore, Facebook cannot argue that it provides services that are similar to the ones provided by Shagbook.

Some think this case might be a tough one for Facebook, with even the site’s own trademark being put into dispute.

How Fragile is Reputation

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The recent closure of the News of the World is an example of how quickly brands that are unmasked on social media can lose their reputation and brand value.  Where previously a brand could use a considerable marketing budget to drown out any negative voices, now as Interbrand puts it “people take to Twitter and Facebook to dismantle all the hard work and equity a brand has built up in a matter of hours”.  

But if your brand has wrongly suffered and lost its reputation can you ever be properly compensated for a ruined reputation?

I came across this disturbing story about Elle MacPherson’s IP strategist.

Mary-Ellen Field was a successful IP Strategist until her career was abruptly ended following stories about Elle in the News of the World.  She was a victim of phone hacking and at that time did not know what we now know, so had no way to fight back.

She is currently suing News Corporation in a bid to have her name cleared.

The IP Finance article Civil Action for Phone Hacking: How Much Is It Worth has an interesting overview of the civil actions available to victims. 

Interestingly Mary-Ellen has so far refused a settlement, so it may prove to be a case that leads to a court decision.  If so, I’ll be watching with interest.