Sara Rosso is definitely what you would call a ‘superfan’ for Nutella. So much so that in 2007, Rosso decided that the chocolate-hazlenut spread deserved its own holiday and created World Nutella Day. Over the past 6 years, the ‘holiday’ has grown into first a community for fellow Nutella fans, and now a movement celebrating the brand. The stated goal for creating the holiday was to ” encourage Nutella enthusiasts worldwide to enjoy and get creative with Nutella.” The event has its own Facebook page with 40K Likes, and a Twitter account with almost 7K followers. On the event’s website, fans have currently submitted over 700 recipes for Nutella, and the entire platform is obviously driving interest, fandom and sales for the brand.
And Nutella just told Rosso to shut the whole thing down. Last month, Rosso received a Cease and Desist letter from Ferrero, the parent company of the Nutella brand.
“They asked me to take down the site because they consider it to be an unauthorized use of their intellectual property and trademarks—the Nutella logo and brand,” Rosso explains.
In Think Like a Rock Star, I devote an entire chapter to helping brands understand who their fans are, and what motivates them. No doubt, Ferrero looks at World Nutella Day, and likely sees little more than customers using its logo and likeness in an unauthorized manner. The company feels it needs to step in and protect its brand, and to be fair it has every right to do so.
But in acting this way, Ferrero is also communicating that it does not understand its own fans, and why they are driving this effort. A fan sees itself as the owner of a brand, in many ways the parent of that brand. As such, they want to see the brand grow and succeed. So they act in what they perceive to be the brand’s best interests.
Ferrero would likely counter that even so, the fan’s best interests for the brand might not be the same as what the brand wants for itself. This is why Ferrero should be working with its fans. Fans are special customers, they want a relationship with their favorite brand. Fans want the brand to step in and give them more instruction on how they can better serve and help that brand.
One of the case studies from the music industry I talk about in Think Like a Rock Star is the fan-run site TheDonnasMedia.com, which was created by fans of The Donnas. The site contains hundreds of thousands of hours of live concert footage from the band’s performances, and even custom made liner notes and photos so fans can literally create their own CDs of The Donnas’ concerts. The band found out about this site years ago, and instead of shutting it down, they contacted the fans running the site, and began working with them to make the site better. They understood that the point of the site from the fans’ perspective was to create new fans for The Donnas, so instead of sending a C&D letter to the site’s owners, the band instead began promoting the site to its fans! And for their part, the fans self-police the site, and won’t allow any material to be uploaded to the site that’s been commercially released by the band (remember what I said about fans acting in what they perceive to be the brand or in this case band’s best interests?).
If Ferrero would reach out to its fans that have organized World Nutella Day, they would no doubt find that Ms Rosso and her team would bend over backwards to accommodate any request from the brand, and would be thrilled that Nutella was reaching out to them. There is an obvious opportunity here for Nutella to work with Rosso and these fans, and create a huge platform for the brand’s fans that could create a significantly positive financial impact on the brand.
But instead, the brand is attempting to shut down the entire movement, and that has, shockingly, led to Nutella now receiving criticism from its own fans on its Facebook page:
“Today, i decided to remove Nutella and other Ferrero products from my grocery list because of the legal actions taken against the http://www.nutelladay.com/. Do whatever you want, but without my money.”
“Bad move Ferrero. Bad, bad move. I won’t be buying your delicious nut butter anymore. It’s a good thing there are plenty of alternatives!”
“We love Nutella, BUT after hearing how you treat your fans, we’ll be switching to an alternative brand.”
“I will never use your product again! You lost more than 1 fan today.”
Rosso has said she will be shutting down the site and all accounts associated with World Nutella Day on Friday. Now there’s still a chance Nutella could step in and say that they want to work with the fans, but the time to do that was before they issued a C&D letter, which is why they are now dealing with backlash from their own fans.
We will be discussing how brands should handle fan-run efforts like this tomorrow during #rockstarchat on Twitter at 1pm Central. But for now, here’s how a brand should respond when it discovers that a fan is running an effort that involves its brand.
1 – Contact the fan(s) first before pursuing legal action. Even if what the fans are doing is clearly against what you feel are the brand’s best interests, it still helps to contact the fans and communicate that to them directly. Normally, the fans will be thrilled to hear from you, and happy to incorporate any changes you request.
2 – Work with the fans to figure out how they can continue to have a relationship with your brand that benefits them, as well as you. Let’s assume that your fans are running a site that, for whatever reason, your brand decides needs to be shut down. Instead of simply sending lawyers out to the fans, contact the fans and carefully communicate to them why their effort is such a disconnect with what your brand is trying to accomplish, and communicate to them that you want to see if they can work with your brand in a different capacity. For example, by attempting to shut down World Nutella Day, Nutella has now alienated an army of literally thousands of fans. If the brand had reached out to these fans and figured out a way that they could keep working together, the fans would have loved it, and the effort would have become an even bigger platform to help the brand. Instead, it’s now become a PR headache for Nutella.
3 – See if there is an opportunity to bring the fan’s initiative under the brand’s umbrella. Instead of shutting down the effort, why not see if the fans would like to help you run it if your brand takes it over? I honestly suspect this is what will happen with World Nutella Day. There is enormous potential in this community, Nutella could easily morph this group into its own brand ambassador program, etc.
4 – Buy Think Like a Rock Star. It shows you exactly how to create a better relationship with such fans, and helps you understand them and how they are trying to help you brand.
If all else fails, you may need to pursue legal action against the fans running such initiatives, but it’s usually a good idea to first contact your fans, and voice your concerns to them. Typically, your fans will go out of their way to work with your brand because remember they are your fans.
If you are a fan of Nutella, what do you think about this story? Should Nutella be shutting down World Nutella Day, or is it a movement that can only help the brand? What do you think?
PS: Thanks to Lauri Rottmayer for the tip about this story.
Afterthought: If Nutella wanted to start today building a new fan community that was 40K strong like the one Rosso has already built (for free), what would be the costs and how much time would it take? I’m thinking about half a million, and remember Rosso has been doing this for 6 years. Whatever the cost, that’s the minimum amount Nutella would be throwing away by not trying to embrace this effort and bring it under the brand’s umbrella.
UPDATE: Nutella just posted on its Facebook page the following “Positive direct contact between Ferrero and Sara Rosso, owner of the non-official Nutella fan page World Nutella Day, has brought an end to the case. Ferrero would like to express to Sara Rosso its sincere gratitude for her passion for Nutella, gratitude which is extended to all fans of the World Nutella Day. The case arose from a routine brand defense procedure that was activated as a result of some misuse of the Nutella brand on the fan page. Ferrero is pleased to announce that today, after contacting Sara Rosso and finding together the appropriate solutions, it immediately stopped the previous action. Ferrero considers itself fortunate to have such devoted and loyal fans of its Nutella spread, like Sara Rosso.”
Kudos to Nutella for doing the right thing!