"Don't wanna be an American idiot…"

by Katie Pizzuto on February 26, 2009

in marketing,public relations,Wine

korbel_bottleI spend a lot of time teaching my kid that whole “names can never hurt me” thing. If someone calls you an idiot and you know you aren’t, who cares? It’s not one of the easiest lessons to teach, given that if someone calls me an idiot my natural inclination is to spew a litany of expletives back at them even though I know I’m not an idiot. I guess it’s that whole “do as I say…” thing and whatnot. It also gets a little hairy when someone is no longer saying it to your face but writing it on the internet. We’ve got laws against libel that put a choke hold on our laws for free speech, which put the burden of proof on the writer. Can he prove you’re an idiot? If not, he’s screwed. Calling you an idiot online without the necessary photos of you wearing underwear on your head during the office Christmas party, for example, could land him with a lawsuit. But where it gets even hairier is when you’re talking shit about a huge corporation that then has to save face—twice over. There’s always more than one way to skin a cat, and Korbel has recently gone about it with a dull razor.

Last year, anonymous chatterboxes on Craigslist accused Korbel Champagne Cellars of several nasties, like punishing employees who reported sexual harassment, plotting to cut down redwood forests on its Guerneville property, and bribing law enforcement and court authorities to keep the company out of trouble. Korbel sued them, but it’s kind of hard to serve papers when you don’t know who the hell to serve them to. So Korbel has now asked a Sonoma County judge to make Comcast Corp. turn over the names of the people who criticized the wine company. Their lawsuit claims that the postings are part of a “conspiracy to defame” them. They’re probably gonna get what they’re after, and they may have every legal right to do so (assuming they can prove they were damaged by the statements), but is it the smartest of PR moves if they’re trying to save face? No.

When you’re as big as Korbel, I’m thinking it might have been a better PR move to simply deny the accusations as laughable, quietly walk away and go back to making your crappy wine. I’m also thinking that maybe going through all these hoops is drawing more negative attention to them. It’s about piling crap on a dung heap…it only serves to make a bigger mess. They could’ve turned this into a positive for themselves, but chose the knee-jerk reaction instead. Now they’re the bully instead of the victim, and I get the distinct feeling they’re gonna come out of this looking worse than any picture the naysayers may have painted of them—if that’s at all possible to do to the idiots over at Korbel.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Rob February 26, 2009

A huge PR oops in my opinion.

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2 Alexander March 2, 2009

Korbel (a publicly traded company, no?) has no case unless they can prove the writer made the statements SPECIFICALLY KNOWING that they weren’t true.

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3 Katie Pizzuto March 2, 2009

Great point, Alex…thanks!

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4 mydailywine March 4, 2009

Yes, my thoughts exactly!
Reminds me of the frightful PR move made by Wine.com last year.
When will these companies learn to have meaningful, authentic online engagement?

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5 Katie Pizzuto March 5, 2009

Unfortunately, Amy, I don’t know if companies like Korbel will ever have online engagement unless they clear house and hire forward-minded marketing and PR professionals. They’ve still got both feet firmly planted in the 20th century.

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6 Tish March 5, 2009

Terrible PR. And let’s see if the mainstream wine mags have th guts to cover this. Update today (3/5/09): http://tinyurl.com/d4owwp
Judge sez COmcast has to alert subscribers in question.

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7 Katie Pizzuto March 5, 2009

Yeah, Tish, that’s the current law…before revealing IDs, you MUST give subscribers the opportunity to counter Korbel. If they don’t, then they’ve been warned and the names can legally be handed over. I call bullshit, though. I don’t think Korbel will actually do anything with the names.

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