“Attacking a brand is like attacking a person”

Last week on my Food Ethics Blog, I posed the following question: Fast Food Beef: What Matters? At the heart of that blog posting is a lawsuit that has been filed against Taco Bell, alleging that…

…Taco Bell’s “meat mixture”, which it dubs “seasoned beef” contained less than 35 % beef. If these figures are correct, the product would fail to meet minimum requirements, set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to be labeled as “beef”. The other 65% of the “meat” is made up of water, soy lecithin, maltodextrin, silicon dioxide, anti-dusting agent and modified corn starch

Today comes news that Taco Bell is fighting back. See this story from ABC News: Taco Bell Fights ‘Where’s the Beef’ Lawsuit

According to the ABC story, Taco Bell President Greg Creed says the allegations are simply false.

Well, sorting that out shouldn’t be too hard, for some unbiased food scientists.

More interesting is Creed’s moralized counter-attack:

“Attacking a brand is like attacking a person. It’s just unacceptable when there aren’t any facts to support it….”

Attacking a brand is like attacking a person? How so? Creed doesn’t expand on the question, but he make just mean that attacking a brand is “like” attacking a person in that both are wrong when they involve falsehoods — perhaps simply because lying is generally wrong.

But setting aside that line of argument, is it possible that a stronger thesis is justified, namely that a brand is something that deserves protection the way that a person deserves protection? Now, I’ve argued before that corporations need to be considered persons. And I’ve also blogged about whether corporations should have the right to sue for libel to protect their interests. But a brand isn’t the same as a corporation, so the arguments I’ve given about those don’t quite hold, here.

The most obvious way to think of the ethical justification (or requirement?) for defending a brand against attack is to think of the brand as a piece of property. If you damage the brand, you damage the interests of those who own it. Sometimes that will be justified (perhaps because the good done by damaging the brand outweighs the interests and/or rights of the brand’s owners), and sometimes it won’t. But I wonder if a still-stronger thesis is possible: is there any reasonable sense in which the brand could be thought of as an entity in its own right, with interests separable from those of its owners? Consider the world’s most valuable brand, Coca Cola. If all of the owners of stock in Coca Cola repudiated their ownership rights, and if all the employees of the company all quit en masse (eliminating another key stakeholder), what would we say about the Coca Cola brand? It would no longer, per hypothesis, have any “owners.” Would it cease to have any ethical significance at all? Would there be nothing either right or wrong that you could do “to” it? What about other brands, like the Red Cross or Greenpeace?

I don’t have good answers, but I think it’s an intriguing question, given the significance of brands in the early 21st century.

1 comment so far

  1. […] “Attacking a brand is like attacking a person” (via The Business Ethics Blog) In Uncategorized on January 28, 2011 at 1:59 pm Last week on my Food Ethics Blog, I posed the following question: Fast Food Beef: What Matters? At the heart of that blog posting is a lawsuit that has been filed against Taco Bell, alleging that… …Taco Bell’s “meat mixture”, which it dubs “seasoned beef” contained less than 35 % beef. If these figures are correct, the product would fail to meet minimum requirements, set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to be labeled as “beef”. The othe … Read More […]


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