Aldi’s legal tussle with Marks & Spencer in the UK was not just any court case, it was #FreeCuthbert. The legal action began when Marks & Spencer accused German discounter Aldi of copying its iconic Colin the Caterpillar cake, with a Cuthbert the Caterpillar Swiss roll. This led to a complex intellectual property claim by M&S, demanding that Aldi stop selling Cuthbert cakes and agree not to sell anything similar in the future.
While legal battles are often seen as damaging to a brand’s reputation, Aldi decided to take a different approach. Instead of fighting the case on legal grounds, Aldi’s PR agency McCann Manchester, working with the supermarket, sparked a national debate on social media with their #FreeCuthbert campaign.
The social media campaign generated widespread discussion, and within a few hours, Aldi was trending at number one on Twitter. The clash of the caterpillar cakes was covered by national news and generated more than 1,400 pieces of written media coverage. The campaign was a hit, with memes, parodies, and memorabilia being made, and user-generated videos racking up over 30 million views.
Aldi’s data showed that the campaign resulted in a big drop in M&S’s scores for news sentiment and purchase consideration. Meanwhile, Aldi’s scores increased, and the brand grew its Twitter following by 30%. What’s more, Aldi reached more than 35 million people on Facebook, and achieved a 15% engagement rate on social. In fact, Aldi called #FreeCuthbert its biggest ever news story and the most effective social media campaign in its history.
The broad public support Aldi received allowed the supermarket to launch a limited-edition Cuthbert cake, with all profits going to its charity partner Teenage Cancer Trust. Aldi even encouraged other supermarkets and their caterpillar cakes to join the #CaterpillarsForCancer cause.
While the legal case was settled confidentially out of court by M&S, it’s safe to say that Aldi won the public debate. Thanks to their quick-thinking and fun social media campaign, Aldi managed to turn a potentially damaging situation into a social media win, while also raising money for a good cause. Who says legal battles must be boring? #FreeCuthbert has proved that with a little bit of wit and humour, a well-managed brand can still come out on top.