Stinky Litigation: Lawyers Defending Kitty Litter

In Bruce Carton’s blog post, “‘Cats Do Not Talk’: Kitty Litter Ad Litigation Expands Into Class Actions,” he describes a lawsuit that seems frivolous, but really shows that making claims can make you look stupid.

The case involves Clorox, which had advertisements that showed that cats preferred their kitty litter over Arm & Hammer’s product, and Arm & Hammer ended up suing. I had a couple of cats, and I never thought that they would be repulsed by kitty litter, so I can see why Arm & Hammer is upset. After all, if the ads work, people won’t buy their litter, and their business will suffer.

What I got from what Carton was writing about is something that attorneys can learn when dealing with publicity. When they make claims in the court of public opinion, they can end up making claims and assumptions that have to be withdrawn, whether it’s during pre-trial publicity or during a trial. Clorox should’ve thought of that: they were claiming that cats could really decide what kind of litter they like, and created a campaign out of it, but it ended up having negative effects. They seemed to be too self-assured and made claims that might not be true–at least that’s what’s been proven in court by various lawsuits. And attorneys can also be too self-assured and make claims about their own cases that might not be true, so they have to be careful about how they proceed with their own publicity plan.

I’d say Clorox painted themselves into a corner. They had an interesting idea to advertise their product, but it backfired, and now they have had to pull the ads and the videos, in addition to settling expensive lawsuits.

Basically, I’d advise attorneys to avoiding bragging too much and be level-headed about how they appear to the public. A good example is the Drew Peterson case. He and his lawyers acted like hot dogs during the trial by wearing sunglasses, acting goofy, smug, and arrogant, and the public ended up being against them. They probably won’t succeed in appeals court, either.

So my suggestion would be to strike a balance between presenting a winning case and reigning in any arrogance, even if you think a case has a good chance of succeeding. That way, in case you don’t succeed, you won’t look like a fool and won’t have to backtrack to fix your reputation.