Really Chick-fil-A? Exploring the Chick-fil-A trademark suit, public relations and reputation management.

Company Value and Reputation

In a recent Businessweek article, research from The Economist Intelligence Unit has found that 75 percent of a company’s value is tied up in its reputation. If more than 90 percent of consumers use the Web to research companies and products before buying, and 80 percent make decisions based on that research, I’m asking the following question: Did Chick-fil-A have a public relations specialist at the discussion table along with the company attorney when they decided to file a recent trademark law suit against a T-shirt making, small business owner in Vermont?

The Chick-fil-A Trademark Suit and Corporate Bully Brand Perception

If you haven’t heard about this, Chick-fil-A has, in my opinion, earned a corporate bully brand perception by filing a trademark suit against a T-shirt maker in Vermont for making shirts that say “Eat More Kale”. According to the latest news from a variety of sources, Bo Muller-Moore began making T-shirts with the slogan “Eat More Kale” more than 10 years ago in support of a friend who grows kale, and to support the “grow local, buy local” philosophy. Really Chick-fil-A?

According to an article in The Huffington Post,  in a letter, a lawyer for Chick-fil-A said, “ Muller-Moore’s effort to expand the use of his ‘eat more kale” message is likely to cause confusion of the public and dilutes the distinctiveness of Chick-fil-A’s intellectual property and diminishes its value.” Really, Chick-fil-A?

What Does This Suit Really Mean?

I wanted to explore this example from both a reputation management perspective as well as from a legal perspective, so I consulted with my good friend Andrew Spriegel, trademark, patent and intellectual property attorney, and owner of Spriegel & Associates LLC,  to get some insight.

“The term ‘confusingly similar’ or ‘likelihood of confusion’ are used in assessing the legal standard that is required to prove infringement of a trademark,” said Spriegel. “In other words, if Chick-fil-A took this suit to court, they would have to be able to show that when people hear or see ‘eat more kale’, they tend to confuse it with the trademarked phrase ‘eat more chikin’ used by Chick-fil-A and in this example, I don’t think Chick-fil-A can effectively make that case. Based upon the research I’ve done, I think they are doing more harm than good for their company with this suit.”

Chick-fil-A Has More Than Kale on its Face

Well, that’s interesting. That’s exactly what I thought. This is an example of a corporate decision that results in harm to the company reputation. Did Chick-fil-A think they could move forward with this without some major consumer backlash, significant negative impact to company reputation, and a pile of kale on its face?

Reputation and the Role of Public Relations

We all know that a company’s reputation is its most valuable asset. In an age where companies now buy reputation insurance, a PR specialist can, as Rosanna Fiske from PRSA states,  “help a company understand the potential consequences of its actions better or provide counsel to mitigate the impact of a business’ actions before they are set into motion. It requires a public relations team that provides strategic communications counsel to, and is a part of, a company’s C-suite.”

It seems that in this case, either the public relations specialist was not invited to the discussion table, or recommendations regarding this legal action were ignored resulting in a suit that is not only potentially devastating for the Muller-Moore family, but for Chick-fil-A’s brand and company reputation. Think about it!

Copyright 2012, Tracy L. Teuscher, APR, The Buzz Maker! LLC

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3 thoughts on “Really Chick-fil-A? Exploring the Chick-fil-A trademark suit, public relations and reputation management.

  1. Corporate Bullies is exactly what they are becoming. I don’t know a single person who would confuse Kale, a green vegetable with chicken, a bird. Apparently Chick-Fil-A does not know the difference. Leave Bo alone Chick-Fil-A. You’ve lost my business and more than that you’ve lost my respect.

  2. In fact, their attempt to diminish the “Eat More Kale” slogan has led me to not only find out about how prejudice, racist and conservative they are, but to be incredibly supportive of Bo and his company. I’ve ordered his merchandise and am following his company on FB.

  3. This is almost as egregious as the heavy-handedness of Susan G. Komen Foundation, who tried to make people stop naming things “_____ for the Cure,” even when the “cure” was for breast cancer. Chick-fil-A is just being a bully by trying to claim ownership in something as generic as “Eat more…” Even if they lose, they will ruin a much smaller business because their war chest is huge. That’s the essence of being a bully: beating up on someone smaller just because you can. Companies — nonprofit or for-profit — may say they are protecting their brands, but they are ruining their reputations.

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