The Crittenden Brand Critter – How Social Media Helps Keep Big Business Honest

crittenden wines

The power of social media for having a conscience.

The Australian newspaper last Saturday (15/2) had a great piece written by Blair Speedy that once again highlights the power of social media. It also highlights how big business, in this case Woolworths, can at times set aside any sense of decency in the name of the almighty dollar.

The case in point relates to the fact that wine industry veteran Garry Crittenden has won a significant personal victory against Woolworths, with the retail giant agreeing to stop using a budget wine label he said was frequently mistaken for one of his products.

As the Australian reported, Garry Crittenden, whose family has made wine on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula for 30 years, has spent the past seven years fighting with Woolies over its in-house brand named Crittenden & Co.

The wine, one of several private-label brands sold by Woolies’ BWS and Dan Murphy’s liquor chains, sells for $4.75 a bottle and has been a strong seller, shifting 17 million bottles since its introduction in 2003.

Woolworths acquired the Crittenden & Co brand in 1987 when it bought a chain of bottle shops in Melbourne trading under that name.

It is not surprising therefore that Garry Crittenden, whose Crittenden Estate wines sell for between $22 and $50 a bottle and who is unrelated to the family of wine merchants who sold their bottle shops to Woolies, is a little pissed at frequently being taken to be the maker of the cheaper product with which he shares a name.

Garry Crittenden registered Crittenden Estate as a trademark in 2007 but said demands for Woolies to stop using the Crittenden & Co label in 2011 were rejected, as was a request for the labels to state the wine was not connected to him.

Negotiations over a coexistence deal went back and forth without resolution until Mr Crittenden emailed his contacts in the wine industry last month setting out his grievances and inviting them to share his letter on social media.

Many did, including leading Australian wine critic James Halliday and influential British wine critic Jancis Robinson, who tweeted the letter to her 202,000 followers, generating interest around the world.

Surprise, surprise, on Friday Woolworths bowed to the pressure, agreeing to axe the disputed brand in response to the social media campaign. The whole debacle says a lot about the potency of having a voice through social media, but it also provides a reminder of the subtle nuances that exist around ethics. Yes, Woolworths could legal claim the right to use Crittenden & Co, but morally was it the right thing to do? Do such decisions depend purely on how many people will be upset by your behaviour? Hopefully not.

Peter Singline
Brand Scientist

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