Who: Kevin Pietersen, Specsavers Optical Group Limited
Where: High Court, London
When: 8 October 2013
Law stated at: 6 November 2013
High street optician Specsavers recently made the national press after one of their “Should have gone to Specsavers” adverts was the subject of a libel action by England cricketer Kevin Pietersen.
This summer’s Ashes test match has generated some controversy over allegations about bat tampering. These were first broadcast during the tournament when Channel 9 in Australia ran a story claiming that various England batsmen including Mr Pietersen may have applied silicon tape to their bats to hoodwink “hot spot” technology designed to detect whether a bowled ball has made contact with a player’s bat.
Mr Pietersen took to Twitter immediately and described the reports as untrue, hurtful and infuriating. The England and Wales Cricket Board were also unimpressed with these allegations and let it be known that they were prepared to take legal action. Channel 9 issued a public apology.
In August, Specsavers chose to reference this controversy as part of their long-running series of adverts in the same vein.
Specsavers’ advert in this case, which appeared on Specsavers’ Twitter account and Facebook page as well as various newspapers and magazines, said alongside a picture of Mr Pietersen: “‘Bat tampering’ in the #Ashes? Apparently Hot Spot should’ve gone to Specsavers”. Mr Pietersen immediately instructed his lawyers to sue Specsavers for defamation.
This case did not get to a full trial, but was rained off at an early stage on 8 October this year, with an apology from Specsavers for the distress and embarrassment caused made by way of a Statement in Open Court. The Statement also recorded Specsavers’ agreement to pay the batsman a “substantial sum in damages”, Mr Pietersen’s legal costs and publicly retracted the allegation, which was accepted as totally untrue and without any foundation whatsoever. Mr Pietersen announced that he would be donating the money to a cancer charity.
Why this matters:
Although Specsavers said they had no intention of making the implication complained of, in the cold light of day, Mr Pietersen’s issue of proceedings cannot have come as too much of a surprise.
Specsavers has successfully run a number of tactical campaigns referencing stories in the public eye and it may have been felt in this case that the personality pictured would laugh it off and regard it as just a penalty of fame. There is no accounting for sense of humour failure, however, and the dilemma is balancing legal risk with the benefit of piggybacking a campaign onto a topical story in the public eye.