Nutella shows us why threatening your best customers is a dumb idea

Here’s a little thought experiment.

You’re the owner of a successful brand – call it Widgets-R-Us – and you come upon a website celebrating your product and encouraging fans around the world to show their love by sharing photos and stories of them with their widgets.

Turns out they have thousands of Twitter followers! Tens of thousands of Facebook friends! All talking about your widgets!

So what do you, loyal widget-maker, do?

Well, if you’re Ferrero SpA, manufacturer of the exceedingly tasty dessert-paste-cum-breakfast-condiment Nutella, you send the mega-fan behind the viral campaign a cease-and-desist letter.

Sara Rosso, an American writer and photographer living in Italy, founded nutelladay.com in 2007 to sing the praises of the chocolate-hazelnut spread and encourage other fans to set aside one day, February 5th, to join together in the defiant act of eating chocolate for breakfast. (And/or lunch and/or dinner, because it’s unclear exactly where Nutella fits in a normal meal schedule.)

Yet what to the naked eye looks like a comprehensive marketing campaign costing Ferrero precisely nothing set off “brand defence” alarm bells, and the company instructed Rosso to shut down the site and its associated social media accounts.

She broke the news to her followers late last week on her site:

“On May 25, 2013, I’ll be darkening the World Nutella Day site, nutelladay.com, and all social media presence (Facebook, Twitter), in compliance with a cease-and-desist I received from lawyers representing Ferrero, SpA (makers of Nutella).”

Fans quickly took to the World Nutella Day page to voice their outrage, and the cries of “idiots,” “major fail,” and “just say NOtella!” seemed to reach Ferrero’s famously impenetrable fortress in northwest Italy.

The company’s response was as remote and blocky as its headquarters. It released a statement announcing it had, ahem, “stopped the previous decision,” while defending the action as a “routine brand defence procedure.” For Nutella – whose official Twitter followers (19,000) number just twice as many as their biggest civilian fan – it was an object lesson in how not to tend the social media flock.

So World Nutella Day will live on, and on February 5th, 2014, those disdainful of  self-preservation and dignified breakfast eating can once again show off to the world that they care not for your organic granola and low-fat yogurt parfaits.

They, these brave breakfast hedonists, will continue to slather their toast in something eerily similar to chocolate-hazelnut icing, secure in the knowledge that toast is not cake, and that they are, therefore, not eating cake for breakfast.

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