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Chobani Yogurt Crashes Mamavation Twitter Party With Sponsored Tweet

By cecilyk |

Leah Segedie, Founder and CEO of Mamavation

Leah Segedie, founder of the inspirational weight-loss online support group and blog Mamavation, woke up to an unwelcome surprise: a promoted tweet from Chobani Yogurt sporting her company’s trademarked name as a hashtag.

Promoted tweets are, according to Twitter, “are ordinary Tweets purchased by advertisers who want to reach a wider group of users or to spark engagement from their existing followers. Promoted Tweets are clearly labeled as Promoted when an advertiser is paying for their placement on Twitter. In every other respect, Promoted Tweets act just like regular Tweets and can be retweeted, replied to, favorited and more.”

But featuring another company’s trademarked name as a hashtag? That doesn’t strike me as a good business practice on Twitter’s part.

As you can imagine, Leah Segedie was not amused.

I turned on my tweet deck this morning and noticed that Chobani had purchased the sponsored tweet in the #mamavation hashtag. I was furious, not because don’t like the brand but because they didn’t come to me first. I have spent YEARS creating and cultivating a community. I work with brands everyday. I consult for brands everyday. Never have I once had this happen to me before…until now. Not only did they purchase the Mamavation hashtag, but also the #fitblog hashtag.

I’ve already mentioned this, but it’s important to note that Chobani did NOT just hijack Leah Segedie’s hashtag (because it’s unlikely that anyone can claim ownership of a simple hashtag featuring common words). They included her corporation’s trademarked name. A critical difference. Leah found it particularly frustrating that they chose this path rather than partnering with her.

Here’s the rub: We want to be respected as bloggers and paid our worth, but here is a brand that is completely circumventing the entire process of working with bloggers. They are cutting us out. Chobani completely ignored the fact that I created the community and I vet the sponsors. AND they stole money out of my pocket. And to make matters worse, they got more attention on Twitter in the past couple days then the paid sponsors that we have: Omron Pedometers & EA SPORTS Active.

Even more worrisome for Leah is the fact that a company with a much less reputable product could also purchase a promoted tweet using her company’s name.

Here’s another issue i have: What is to stop McDonalds from paying for the sponsored tweet in the #Mamavation hashtag to promote their salads? McDonalds is a brand I wouldn’t work with. There are several brands I would never work with that now have the opportunity to put themselves in front of my community because of the Twitter sponsored tweets. My community could actually get hijacked by McDonalds and that scares me. It’s like not being able to control the ads on your blog.

Once this issue came to Chobani’s attention, their communications manager Emily Schildt immediately terminated the promoted tweet and apologized profusely.

I run our digital communications and in my field, I’ve learned that you can’t have an ego. It’s an ever-changing environment in which we’re all still learning. Given that #mamavation is a topic we see so often amongst some of our biggest supporters, I thought it would be a great way to introduce others within the community to our products, and our recipes in the Chobani Kitchen. My thought process solely surrounded the community as a whole and I did not, however, take into consideration that this may offend the creator. For that, I am so sorry.

As Twitter continues to explore avenues to monetize, these issues are likely to come up again and again. Twitter has to monetize in order to survive. But will it do it carefully?

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About cecilyk

cecilyk

cecilyk

Cecily Kellogg writes all over the web, including here at Babble for Voices and Tech. She neglects her own blog, Uppercase Woman. Read bio and latest posts → Read Cecily's latest posts →

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0 thoughts on “Chobani Yogurt Crashes Mamavation Twitter Party With Sponsored Tweet

  1. Janice says:

    While I certainly don’t agree with what the Brand did, I wonder: is it Twitter’s job to determine if the hashtag is part of a trademarked name? Where does that responsibility lie? Can Burger King now tweet with the hashtag #mcdonalds ?

    Also, if much larger companies such as my example above were involved, would this be a different situation?

  2. Lynette Young says:

    Bad form. Bad bad form by Chobani.

  3. Leah Segedie says:

    I really think that the brands that decide to do this should reach out to the influencers first to get their buy-in. Otherwise, they are going to be just like wedding crashers. Actually, worse than that because you HAVE to stare at them every time you want to tweet. At least with wedding crashers you can ignore and go to the other side of the room. I don’t have a problem with the sponsored tweets. I have a problem with how this particular brand handled themselves. Lucky for us they took down the tweet immediately. But I can see a future when you open up twitter and the first 3 tweets are nothing but sponsored tweets. Scary future for twitter.

  4. Katy Widrick says:

    Thank you for this post — I am the founder of #Fitblog and this is the second time a brand has purchased a sponsored tweet for our hashtag, and neither time did the brand ask me for my thoughts…

    …I’m not saying that it bothers me — because I’m not sure how I feel about it. There are some great brands, and the more that I can help them get exposure to the #Fitblog community, the better. For me, #Fitblog is a passion project, not a money-maker. Having said that, I routinely blog and speak about the importance of protecting your brand, so I need to try and come up with some guidelines or reactions that wrap everything in.

    Great, timely topic…

  5. Sommer says:

    It is similar to Facebook ads. If you are McDonalds you can target your Ad to those that like Burger King.

  6. Meghan says:

    They had to have researched the hashtag before using it. I love Chobani but that was a played moved. No one starts a campaign without doing their research first. A simple search would show Leah’s community. That was really bad form on Chobani’s part, but on the flipslide #Mamavation just got a nice spike so hopefully Leah snagged some new followers from it!

  7. A fellow blogger says:

    While I agree it would have been ideal for the brand to go directly to Leah, I am disappointed in Leah’s method of response. Talk about burning a bridge before the bridge was even built. What would have happened if instead of screaming at the top of her Twitter and Facebook stream she would have instead reached out to the brand and voiced her concern directly with them giving them the opportunity to correct it? Who knows, maybe she could have scored a really amazing sponsorship directly with the company. If I were a future brand considering partnering with Leah, I would be too scared to make a mistake with her for fear of her quick temper and willingness to slaughter a company through the mud within her community.

    Social media is so new. Brands like Leah’s are setting the stage for everyone else – it can either be done with hell and fire or with tact and grace. I prefer the latter.

  8. Amy from Resourceful Mommy says:

    Ironically, I tweet with the @Chobani name along with the #Mamavation tag frequently when updating my followers on my weight loss process as a member of the Mamavation community. Eating high protein Chobani has been a big part of that weight loss and therefore something I share naturally as an unpaid brand enthusiast. I can only imagine that similar tweets from others made the fit between a Chobani promoted tweet and the Mamavation tag feel natural, but clearly it should have indicated an opportunity for them to instead work with Leah as a potential sponsor.

    I also believe that the intention of allowing promoted tweets within a tag began with the idea of promoting within topical tags such as #parenting or #health, but now that it has filtered over to trademarked names and organized communities, Twitter has something very important to consider. Will they get involved in trademark disputes? Does what they say go on their platform regardless?

    Watching…

  9. Tania aka Pure Natural Diva says:

    I followed this as it unfolded on FB – and need to defend Leah a little bit here. She did not name the brand – rather addressed the issue. People were asking her which company and she did say she had reached out to them and was waiting to hear back from them and that if people wanted to know it wasn’t find on twitter.
    I never saw her mention the brand name publicly until this article.

  10. Dr. Jen says:

    Good for you, Leah! And take it as a compliment – Speaks volumes to the respect your community has online. Imitation (hashtag infringement) is the greatest form of flattery!

  11. Shelley (@momma_oz) says:

    While I don’t pretend to know all the ins and outs of how brands and bloggers connect, I can appreciate the time an effort that it takes to build a community. Leah has built something remarkable and I can understand a brand wanting to be a part of it… but to simply buy ad space – whether through Twitter or other social media platform – and force yourself into a community is like barging into your neighbors house uninvited simply because you’ve been there before. Isn’t this all about building relationships? Or… I guess shouldn’t it all be about building relationships?

    I guess I don’t understand the response here from “A Fellow Blogger”… since when is protecting your family – because that IS what Mamavation is – burning a bridge? Why is Leah being made out to be the villian when you could easily say the same about brand who infiltrate registered communities without regard?

    It’s not a knock on Chobani specifically – I personally have tweeted their name in the #mamavation hashtag as well. They made a mistake and (hopefully) are making things ‘right’

    Maybe if Twitter allowed you to register your trademarked hashtags for communities there would be a way to regulate the types of ads allowed? Again, I don’t have the answer… just know that anonymous finger pointing is counter productive.

  12. Leah Segedie says:

    I’m wondering if it was actual trademark infringement. Me…#clueless…not an attorney. Anyone legal want to weigh in?

  13. Gena Morris says:

    I can see Leah’s frustration. I think the company should definitely be careful when putting that money into a hashtag promotion. It is the company’s job to research that trademark. I hope that other companies can look at this problem and learn from it. We all make mistakes but if we can take something away from those mistakes we can all be winners.

  14. Sara at Saving For Someday says:

    What Chobani did is quite possibly trademark infringement, mainly because they did this in a commercial context of advertising their product. It’s also very possible that Twitter holds some liability as a contributory infringer because they enabled the infringement to occur.

    While there is no case law or precedent on this currently, it’s only a matter of time. Using a registered trademark in keyword stuffing has been deemed trademark infringement. While ‘promoted tweets’ are not technologically the same as using metatags or metakeywords it could be argued that they are analogous.

    The question becomes, if this was infringement, what do you do? Usually the first request is a Cease and Desist, which it appears was done in an informal way. The result was that the promoted tweet was ended and an apology given to Leah, as owner of the company which owns the trademark. In cases of trademark infringement, often the action sought is merely removal of the offending infringement. Seeking damages is always a possibility for Federally Registered marks (such as the mamavation mark). However, keep in mind that it will cost money and time and the recovery may not even cover the legal fees and filing a lawsuit in Federal Court is a time consuming prospect.

    With regard to the commenter above regarding Facebook ads, that is completely different. Targeting the ads to someone who likes a competitor does not potentially infringe another’s trademark. Targeted ad are no different than placing an ad where you know people who like your competitors will be. Facebook does not allow ads to use another company’s intellectual property. Twitter clearly permitted a sponsored/promoted tweet to potentially infringe a 3rd party’s trademark.

    Most hashtags do not incorporate a trademarked term. Thus making this situation unique, but still posing special legal issues that are not currently addressed by existing laws.

    The ethical concerns of Chobani using a promoted tweet in the #mamavation stream is something that is of significant concern. Hijacking goodwill is not the best way to market your product. Chobani knew what it was doing and took a calculated risk.

    Legal concerns aside, is this they type of marketing an ethical company would undertake?

    Regards,
    Sara

    Disclosure: I am a lawyer but this is not legal advice nor is it designed to substitute for appropriate legal counsel. For information purposes only.

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