Social Media & Beer
by Ken J. Fleming
It's obviously clear that companies are using social media to market their products
but now it's being used as a weapon in the battles between breweries over trademark
battles. Case in point is the most recent high profile confrontation between Magic Hat
Brewery in Vermont and Kentuky's West Sixth Brewery.
Before the rise of social media, small companies such as West Sixth facing a
trademark challenge from a big company like Magic Hat could either submit to their
demands or hire high-priced lawyers, stick it out for a long court battle, and probably
lose anyway. Now however, with the increased use of Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and
other digital-sharing websites, little companies have a new weapon. They enlist social
media outlets to let others know about their trademark plight and to shame the larger
companies going after them. They also use online petitions to gain public support
and hurt their opponent where it hurts the most - sales.
The case basics are simple, Magic Hat charges that West Sixth sold beer using color,
trademarks and designs "that closely resemble and are confusingly similar" to the
designs used by Magic Hat for several years. Within minutes of the lawsuit filing West
Sixth galvanized public support for their position by launching a social media
campaign that included an online petition to ask Magic Hat to drop the lawsuit and
stop "corporate bullying." The petition had more than 5,100 signatures in the first two
hours and 16,600 by the end of the day.
The lawsuit said the appearance of Magic Hat's #9-branded products is
characterized by its distinctive orange, the predominant color on its labels, the
presence of the "dingbat" star and the circular motif of the #9 design. And they might
have a point. West Sixth recently introduced its Amber Ale with an orange label that
includes the numeral 6. The lawsuit said West Sixth has used a "dingbat" star to
"confuse consumers and trade on Magic Hat's good will." Magic Hat has used the #9
mark on beer and ale since at least 1995 in the United States and since at least 2009
in Kentucky while West Sixth has sold beer, ale and brewpub services using the 6 in
its logo since April 1, 2012.
Magic Hat initially said it was "blindsided" by West Sixth's social media campaign but
that they were willing to negotiate despite their strong case.
Others have used social media in a similar way. Vermont folk artist Bo Muller-Moore
was sued by Chik-fil-A because his T-shirt business built around the phrase "Eat
more kale" which allegedly infringed on the restaurant chain's "Eat more chikin"
slogan. Muller-Moore took to Facebook for support and more than 29,000 people
signed an online petition asking Chik-fil-A not to block his application for a trademark
application. Chilk-fil-A persisted however, and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
preliminarily rejected Muller-Moore's trademark application.
Another case concerned Monster Energy Drink which sent a "cease and desist" letter
to Rock Art Brewery about its Vermonster beer. They demanded Rock Art abandon
a trademark application for Vermonster claiming they already had trademarks for
"Monster" and "Monster Energy. Rock Art spread word about the issue through
social media and soon Facebook and other sites were filled with negative comments
about Monster. That in turned forced Monster into a deal allowing Art Rock to keep
the Vermonster brand as long as they didn't enter the energy-drink field.
Cases such as Magic Hat and Vermonster's speak to the character of the craft beer
population, showing it to be passionate, well-educated, and engaged and conversant
in social media. In addition, it shows that the craft beer generation is interested in
sourcing what it consumes, whether that is food, whether that is beer, or just about
anything else. They want to know where it came from, and they tend to prefer things
that are smaller and less corporate-owned.
Of course public opinion is not going to help much in winning or losing a lawsuit but
some companies are using it to get their name out there and from there to increase
sales. That means a win regardless of what the courts eventually decide.
You be the judge- here are the two logos. Click on picture to enlage.
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