Sometimes there are brands and products that are so well loved, they draw their own fan base and subculture. Take, for instance, Volvo owners, who push their cars until they're ancient rust buckets in an attempt to get 500,000 or more miles out of them. Or, consider McRib lovers, who search for the elusive sandwich high and low. Then there are the people who literally brand themselves head to toe with their favorite logos, paying for the privilege of wearing a Corona bikini or Budweiser board shorts.
One would think that the real-life Don Drapers of the world are insanely happy when someone announces "eat an Oreo day" or sets up a "Shamrock Shake finder". I mean, isn't a fan-based rap called "I Love McDonald's" the ultimate in free advertising? Isn't that the goal of every corporation with a Twitter or Instagram account? To have a product so well loved that a specific burger or taco or car goes viral?
Tell that to Nutella. Recently, the makers of the hazelnut-and-chocolate spread, Ferrero SpA, sent a cease-and-desist letter to the creators of World Nutella Day, insisting the woman who started the mock-holiday and the website (with hundreds of Nutella recipes), to stop all operations and the use of the Nutella name by May 25.
The made-up holiday, celebrated annually on February 5 since 2007, was the brainchild of Sara Rosso, an American blogger living in Italy, who thought it would be fun to have a day designed to celebrate the spread. As her website says, "why not?"
The holiday grew and so did the following. The World Nutella Day Facebook page has nearly 40,000 fans -- who all eat Nutella. And, though there are no hard figures, It's a safe assumption that sales for the chocolate/hazelnut spread rose during the annual tribute day.
The story gained legs, as media outlets started covering the big-bad-wolf of a company huffing and puffing and blowing down the website of a fan. Calls to Ferrero USA by the press were unanswered (Short Order and, apparently, Bloomberg Businessweek were declined interviews by the domestic arm of the company), and it looked like the company had as much heart as the Grinch. But, someone -- a public relations person, a marketing executive -- saw the potential shitstorm a-brewing and put an end to this nonsense, issuing a statement to Bloomberg Businessweek, stating Nutelladay.com could remain online:
"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."
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The moral of this story? Fan clubs and tributes have been around since the beginning of time. People spend their waking hours building websites and fan pages for Lady Gaga, Taco Bell, and Nutella. Instead of lawsuits, there should be gratitude, or at least compromise.
Because, at the end of the day, you could have the best product in the world, but if you alienate your fans, your chocolatey spread just looks like shit.