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M&S v Aldi: Round 2

In what appears to be a reboot of the ‘Colin v Cuthbert’ saga which dominated headlines earlier this year, M&S has returned for round two against Aldi, suing the discount supermarket chain over their ‘copycat’ Christmas gin. M&S has filed papers with the High Court seeking an injunction restraining Aldi from further infringing on its designs, for Aldi to surrender or destroy its stock, and pay damages and costs – Aldi has rejected requests to cease selling the gin thus far. This particular spat bears a large resemblance to the Colin v Cuthbert case, which is ongoing, where M&S claimed similar remedies and damages against the discount retailer. The Aldi PR machine was quick to capitalise on the attention these disputes have elicited, using social media to gain notoriety for both Cuthbert and their gin, by posting a series of memes, short videos, and even referencing caterpillar-gate in their Christmas advert, all of which have gone viral. And there’s been serious online cut through, with the hashtag #FreeCuthbert trending on Twitter for several days. Furthermore, other companies selling Colin knockoffs jumped on the media bandwagon and produced their own memes, adding further momentum to the story while generating sales across the board. What we see now is Aldi receiving the support of the public, while comes across as ill-humoured for their ‘serious’ response. Despite this, M&S will likely continue their legal battle to stop the sale of Aldi’s Christmas gin and Cuthbert, but Aldi are seemingly happy to swallow the potential costs of losing if they continue to reign victorious in the court of public opinion. This is yet another example of how so-called ‘meme culture’ has infiltrated the world of marketing and PR and can even be used as an effective tool during legal disputes. It also demonstrates how the court of public opinion, shaped by PR consultants, can be an instrumental tool in these disputes and influence consumer behaviour as a result.  While it may not seem obvious to those who don’t work in these sectors, PR and legal action are closely entwined. Both professions work from a strategic standpoint – that is, lawyers advising on legal implications and PR professionals advising on the external, or public facing, implications of decisions. When put together, the combined actions of both parties can influence the outcome of disputes and the bottom-line of clients.   Be it reputation management of an individual, or in this case a company like Aldi, communications play a vital role in shaping narratives and responding appropriately to events as they unfold. While humour may not always be the most appropriate response, in the case of Colin v Cuthbert and now the gin debacle, it was absolutely the right decision.


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