Pillsbury Risks Brand Reputation By Threatening Small Business

Recently, a small bakery in Salt Lake City called My Dough Girl received a legal threat from General Mills.  What was the threat exactly?  As reported by KSL.com:

When the owner picked the name “My Dough Girl,” she says she went through the proper procedure — including checking on any copyright infringement.

Now that the business has grown in popularity, a big corporation is threatening to take her to court.

The owner of My Dough Girl received a legal “cease and desist” order from Pillsbury in May, stating she had to change her business name or face a lawsuit.

And obviously to us, but not so obvious to General Mills, the internet has turned against Pillsbury.  Check out this Facebook page keeping track of the situation created by irate fans of Dough Girl for just the tip of the iceberg:

I’ll be honest, I didn’t see the connection between Pillsbury and this shop (or had even heard of this shop before).  But apparently the General Mills legal team has nothing better to do than torture small business owners.  Torture, in that according to the same story it will cost the owner an estimated $50,000 to go through a re-naming/re-branding of the company.

To me it seems like a lack of common sense on General Mills part, self-invoking of negativity for the brand from consumers plus a real threat of a groundswell against them.

As with any groundswell, users are doing the work of taking the ethically correct side of this battle.  One blogger drew up a great letter to General Mills, and in it included the following illustration to show the scale of the two companies and some comparisons of the brand:

General Mills vs. My Dough Girl Size

Would you really confuse these two brands?


Another story in Salt Lake City Weekly noted the fact that General Mills asked Dough Girl to remain silent about the situation, and even kill the Facebook page (which she didn’t even create):

Corporate counsel for General Mills has asked Cromar to not talk to the media about the squabble and to kill the Facebook page, which Cromar says is a “guerrilla uprising” of her supporters that she did not start and does not control.

So on top of threatening a small business which poses no harm to General Mills or bears any resemblance to the Pillsbury Dough Boy, the corporate giant is attempting to silence any opposition.  Except that’s not how things work anymore.  These actions merely invoke the Streisand Effect (which, if you’re reading this, proves just how real it is).

Techdirt also covered the story and noted:

Even more interesting, though, is the reason this story is getting attention isn’t because the bakery is fighting it, but because a bunch of fans of the bakery have used the internet to spread the word about how they really don’t appreciate Pillsbury bullying their local bakery, which no one confused with the food giant in the first place. The article above also says that General Mills asked the owner to “kill the Facebook page,” even though she didn’t create it and has no control over it. In fact, she seems afraid that the Facebook page is making things worse. Still, it’s quite a testament to modern technology that this is even possible. Can you imagine patrons of a small business standing up to a giant corporation without the small business’ support in the past?

However, all it’s really doing is calling a lot more attention to incredible bullying by a company like General Mills against a small company that has a legitimate claim to the name. One of these days, perhaps lawyers will realize that legal bullying leads to backlash, but I guess we still haven’t reach that point yet.

No comment from Pillsbury

As noted in the Salt Lake City Weekly article:  when asked for comment, a General Mills spokesperson said only, “We routinely do not comment on pending trademark matters.”  So it’s no surprise then the Pillsbury Twitter feed speaks nothing of the issue despite Tweets being directed at them.  Even more surprising is the onslaught of conversations speaking out against Pillsbury on their own Facebook page (example here) and yet not a word from Pillsbury:

What’s funny is that in Pillsbury’s minds, they were trying to protect their brand and reputation by sending their legal team on this bakery.  However, all they have succeeded in is chipping away at their own brand and causing the web to react negatively.  In a connected society, these things are going to spread (and since the web is referential, they will stick around).

The only thing Pillsbury really succeeds in here is ruining a small business and leaving a bad taste in our mouths.  What do you think about the situation?