Colin the Caterpillar litigation comms crawl

By Matt Baldwin.

The battle between Colin and Cuthbert – both caterpillars and cakes – is crawling towards the courts, shuffled along by a cringeworthy litigation comms campaign driven, it seems, by Aldi’s social media team.

The details of the case can easily be found online, but it is unlikely that either retailer will emerge from this sweet-toothed spat as a beautiful butterfly.

The latest wheeze from Aldi is to play the charity card telling M&S to ‘raise money for charity, not lawyers’, as if legal spend is first and foremost on the retailer’s mind.

Its social media wizzes look to take the humorous and moral high ground, appealing for Colin and Cuthbert to ‘be besties’ saying that they are taking a ‘stand against caterpillar cruelty’.

The response from M&S has been little better, managing a tweet that shows the often-painful relationship between lawyers and comms teams.

Aldi appears to think banter and charity tops intellectual property rights, appealing to the court of public opinion to settle this dispute. Unless Cuthbert goes the way of many garden caterpillars, it will be the courts that will ultimately decide.

What this dispute does show is just how woeful the communication efforts have been by both retailers. Retail comms is clearly very different to litigation messaging.

Yes, it has generated considerable press interest, but it always would. Who doesn’t love two high street retailers in a playground fight over cake!

M&S has been on the back foot from the start, forced to defend itself every step of the way when it should be leading the debate. Aldi is keen to make it look the underdog despite its reputation of being fast and loose in emulating successful brands – just take a look at its orange fizzy drink Iron Brew that looks remarkably like, well, IRN-BRU.

Humour or cheeky banter certainly has a place to play in the way businesses speak to their customers and to their competitors. McDonands and Burger King often tease each other and their comms teams are up to the challenge. KFC’s team was also up to the task when it ran out of chicken 2018’s chickengate.

Yet, here it feels artificial, desperate even.

Litigation and crisis comms demands careful planning and consideration. It needs coordination with legal communications advisers. What you don’t say is as important as what you do. It is a time for a brand to put away childish tactics and show the world what a beautiful, or aggressive, animal it can be.

Matt Baldwin is joint managing director of Coast Communications, a legal communications consultancy.

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