By Jo Bixby, Assistant at Davenport Lyons

When British designers Tatty Devine recently found Claire's Accessories to be selling what have been described as 'blatant copies' of products from its jewellery range, Claire's Accessories found themselves at the centre of a mass consumer uproar gone viral (albeit with a little nudging from Tatty Devine’s blog).

Loyal Tatty Devine fans felt so strongly about the news that, not surprisingly, Claire's quickly began globally trending on Twitter. This is not just a question of alleged intellectual property infringement (and any damage caused to Tatty Devine's brand as a result of the sale of what appears to be a competing identical or highly similar product) but also one of brand management for Claire's. It appears that in addition to ignoring the negative publicity brewing around them, a member of staff at Claire's did what has increasingly become a big 'No No' and quickly deleted negative comments left by disgruntled Tatty Devine fans from its Facebook page (and reportedly blocked them from adding further posts).

Of course, brands have every right to delete negative comments from public forums, especially if the comment is obscene or threatening in any way. Generally speaking however, consumers have a reason to leave a negative comment, do not appreciate censorship and require transparency from their brands. Try to censor the wrong consumer and you could be adding fuel to the fire.

Deleting comments from social/public forums is seen by many in the internet world as sticking your head in the sand and brands risk a re-posting with a vengeance. This recent episode just highlights how important it is for brands to have an effective and up to date social media policy and to have an understanding of the on-line consumer market. With the Internet, brands are dealing with a fast moving mobile customer base who can access information and post comments very quickly. By embracing a fast moving social medium as part of their marketing approach, brands need to be wary that any comments (positive or negative) can come just as fast and need to accept that criticism can come in exactly the same way. If it wasn't for the deletion of Facebook posts, the news may not have been so widespread.

Can Claire's come back from this latest media storm? Only time will tell. On the plus side, however, every cloud has a silver lining - for those who had never heard of Tatty Devine, they certainly have now! Tatty Devine have now called in their lawyers to help them protect their intellectual property rights (and incidentally, following legal advice, have now closed their blog post to further comments), so watch this space...

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