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When is Percy Pig not Percy Pig?

When M&S says it isn't!

This week there’s a timely reminder for all of us that ‘negotiating’ should not necessarily be the first port of call when you’re faced with a conflict. Indeed, it's a concern of mine that if we only train people how to negotiate when they face conflict, then guess what? – it becomes the ‘go to’ irrespective of how appropriate for the conflict in question. Negotiating costs, and if it’s used before other value creating options are explored, it may mean that the outcome becomes prohibitively more expensive in terms of money, relationships or time.

Back to Percy Pig – The BBC reported this week that an ice cream parlour in Hitchin, Hertfordshire (just 10 minutes from where I live) had been making and promoting an ice cream called ‘Percy Pig’ see the article here.

Now this had recently been brought to the attention of Marks & Spencer. Apparently, the name Percy Pig had started life as a bag of sweets in 1992 but had since evolved to other M&S ranges, with the relevant trademarks all in place to deliver the confidence of a genuine M&S branded product.

Now M&S had a choice as to how they could engage with Fabio's Gelato – the ice cream parlour in Hitchin. They could impose their will – standard legal letter telling them to stop and desist (maybe viewed as a little heavy handed from a public relations point of view). They could just let it go – this might risk the loss of their trademarks later. They might have considered negotiating – possibly setting up a franchise arrangement with the supplier. However, given the amount of time and effort setting this up with such a small supplier, it would probably not be worth it. Moreover, an arrangement such as this might be seen as setting a precedent for other ‘opportunistic’ copycat suppliers to try their luck.

In the end M&S sent a polite letter to the ice cream parlour explaining the issues and the potential problems, requesting that they change the name of the ice cream to something other than ‘Percy Pig’. In essence, they took a problem-solving approach to the conflict.

The ice cream now sells as ‘Fabio’s Pig’. The upside? M&S is seen in a proactive, fair and understanding light and Fabio’s Gelato has now received some fantastic promotion through the associated media coverage.

When we experience conflict, we must explore all the issues that relate to it - both the known and the unknown – why are certain things important, what is the relative priority of the issues and what is the overall objective that lies behind these discussions. It may be that a change of timing/wording/colour/shape can make all the difference to one party without any additional cost having to be incurred.

I wonder if Fabio’s Gelato considered branding the ice cream as ‘Fabio’s Pig, the ice cream formerly known as Percy’. Nice idea, however, probably a bit too close to the mark for M&S!

Sam Macbeth, 16th May

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