Spat between Coke-backed and blogger holds lessons for brands Brand-backed site focuses on sustainability issues Brand-backed site focuses on sustainability issues

What kind of due diligence does a brand need to carry out before launching something as harmless as a hashtag campaign?, a sustainability site backed by 29 major brands including Coca-Cola, Unilever and Pepsico, recently pulled a social media campaign after a blogger claimed trademark infringement.

The blogger, Michele Burmaster, had been running a fitness site called ‘Disrupt Your Diet’ since June last year.  

She complained that had "stolen" her brand with its campaign launched last month, also called ‘Disrupt Your Diet’. She contacted the site asking it to pull the campaign and, some days later, obliged.

Writing on her blog, Burmaster claimed infringement of her "trademarked brand", suggesting a possible legal basis for her claim, and a worrying precedent for brands on social media.

No legal reason

But Iain Connor, partner at law firm Pinsent Masons, told Marketing that in this instance, Burmaster had minimal legal rights.

He said: "It looks like took a pragmatic decision to change the campaign name without any real legal reason to do so. 

"The [woman] behind the ‘Disrupt your diet’ blog does not have a registered trade mark and so her legal rights are limited to the protection of her goodwill."

Legally speaking, goodwill refers to the intangible benefits of being a trusted brand that is known to consumers. 

Connor added: "She could protect that goodwill by suing for passing off; a legal right which stops a person misrepresenting that they are connected with someone else – for example, you can’t say you make Champagne unless you are from that region of France."

No brand involvement

Burmaster also called out Unilever, one of the 29 brands supporting, claiming the FMCG giant had intentionally copied the ‘disrupt your diet’ name. CEO Will Gardner strongly denied the influence of any one brand, pointing out the company is an independent non-profit.

He told Marketing: "We are supported by a number of partner organisations.

"As part of our recent focus on making food systems fairer, healthier and more sustainable, in March we launched a social media campaign with the hashtag DisruptYourDiet.

"Following a request to stop using this hashtag, we stopped promoting it on the same day and all references were subsequently removed and replaced with a new campaign #InnovativeEats."

As Connor noted, Burmaster in this instance did not have "sufficient" brand goodwill to legally stop anyone else from borrowing the phrase ‘disrupt your diet’.

He said: "But, as the story has shown, she is a blogger and has got some media traction.  Therefore was in a no-win situation and took a good PR route out by changing the name of its campaign."


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