It’s often seen as a very “British” character trait to support the underdog. In the world of sport this was memorably displayed when the nation got behind Leicester City as they closed in on the Premier League title a couple of years ago, whilst in politics many saw the previously unfancied Jeremy Corbyn as the person to support over Theresa May for the race to Number 10 following his surprising rise to Labour leader.
In the world of business, “David Vs Goliath” scenarios can often emerge in the news when smaller enterprises allegedly contravene large organisations’ intellectual property (IP), such as trademarks, copyrights or patents.
When a large organisation identifies such a situation, how to respond may not always be clear; they can either look to enforce their rights, which they are perfectly entitled to do, or alternatively can essentially ignore it and move on without a fuss.
A recent example involved a shop owner who received much media attention last year when he appeared to mimic large supermarket brands. Jel Singh Nagra named his Tyneside based convenience store “Singhsbury’s”, with the sign depicting more than a passing resemblance to that of Sainsbury’s.
Sainsbury’s did not see the funny side and threatened to sue Mr Singh unless he took down the sign. As Mr Singh wasn’t keen on the prospect of a legal battle with the multi-national organisation, he removed the sign. But instead of going for a cautious approach, he renamed his shop “Morrisinghs”, a sign which, you guessed it, mimicked Morrison’s branding. Morrison’s supported Mr Singh, wishing him well and welcoming the tribute.
This raises an interesting debate. As PR consultants, we recognise the importance of protecting a brand, but we also understand the importance of perceptions. The question is, what’s more damaging: being potentially perceived as picking on a sole trader, or having your brand mimicked, and perhaps damaged, by a small business?
It’s very easy to accuse Sainsbury’s of heavy handedness in this scenario but as a business that spends a significant amount of resources securing and protecting their intellectual property rights and they have every right to enforce these. After all, the company may have felt that inaction would have set a dangerous precedent. When it comes to ‘David V Goliath’ situations, people often side with the underdog, even when they might be in the wrong. We can recognise that businesses can and should protect the integrity of their brand, and at the same time show caution against disproportionate and humourless reactions that could alienate people and get them rooting for the other side.
Often neither party in such a situation is plainly right or wrong. Lots of different factors should be considered before reacting. The wrong response can create a high profile negative response, and when it comes to good crisis management preventing a fire is better than putting one out.