Big competitors can wait you out. They’ve got more lawyers than you have employees and pockets deep enough to swallow your whole company. And between you and me, when the lawyers get involved, they are typically the only ones to benefit. So when you get the formal declaration of corporate war via certified mail lambasting you with everything from “unfair competition” and “copyright infringement” to “high treason,” it does tend to shove your to-do list aside for the day.
This is why my friends at Method have my full attention and admiration. I’ve had the good fortune to meet team Method on several occasions and I’ve been very impressed with their combination of careful brand positioning and solid products. You may have heard of this, but Clorox sent Method a cease-and-desist letter last month over the use – wait for it – of the daisy, claiming that Clorox owns the copyright to the use of the flower in the detergent category. I’m not here to argue the legal merits of the case (sadly), but as Adam and Eric mention they’ve been using the daisy for six years on their products, pre-dating the launch of Clorox’s Green Works line, I’d say that there is more than enough to back up their side of the story.
What prompted this note today is their reaction to this legal assault. Method took their fight to the Court of Popular Opinion, launching a YouTube video and website aimed at asking we, the people, who should own the daisy: Method, Clorox or Mother Earth. So far, Mother Earth is resoundingly beating both brands, much to Method’s delight.
What makes this so fun? Do I really need to tell you? You already get why this is so fun. Because Clorox, I’m guessing, thought it could lean on a smaller competitor and grind it down to a legal settlement. Because the Goliath planned on squashing the David. And instead of fighting this fight, Method sent it up to the people to decide. Now look what’s happened – Clorox looks foolish, which is a position a giant never, ever wants to be in. Read the comments in the YouTube video site.
Method has now pitted Clorox and its legal army against its customers – both present and future. This fight is no longer about one corporate entity versus another, but about a core brand attribute – the daisy, nature and sustainable detergents – that a company synonymous with bleach claims to own. This is an unwinnable fight for Clorox and one I’d guess they’d happily be rid of.
Think of this in game theory terms. Method versus Clorox is what we’d call an asymetrical game of chicken. Method is happy to play because it gives them a stage to play on – head to head competition is a win for them, while Clorox fights a battle where winning is a very marginal victory and losing is catastrophic. There is lots of upside and virtually no downside for Method – but for Clorox, the opposite holds true. This was a costly move on Clorox’s part, and not just because of the legal fees. It must now find a way to make this whole thing go away in a less-public way. And I don’t think Method will let them off the hook.
Apparently, the underlying idea of “People Against Dirty” means more than earth-friendly detergent. Method holds a populist world view, siding with Mother Earth and the Court of Popular Opinion against everything dirty – even when this describes their competition.