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Save The Hobbit - Social Media, Stephen Fry and Gandalf Save Southampton Pub

Written by Craig Charley – Wed 21 Mar 2012


Recently, one social media campaign has found it hard to stay out of the news for all the wrong reasons. What started off as an attempt to raise awareness of worrying problems Africa soon spiralled into something very different. A lot has been written about what went wrong on the Kony 2012 campaign. However, there is a more light hearted story of social media success at the moment involving a pub in Southampton called The Hobbit.

We can learn two things from this story. Firstly that the internet makes it easier for rights holders to find copy right infringement, and secondly that social media can be a powerful weapon if wielded properly.

If you are looking to increase your presence on the web then we recommend our Social Media training and Content Marketing training courses. As well as teaching you how to use the tools at your disposal, the courses are also designed to help you create and manage a successful marketing strategy.

The Hobbit Pub, Southampton

Nestled in the shire of Bevois Valley, Southampton is The Hobbit pub, popular with students. It is a place I visited regularly as a University of Southampton student and is well known for its 'Fellowship' cocktails named after Lord of the Rings characters.

The pub has traded under the name The Hobbit for over 20 years and as well as the cocktails features Tolkein-inspired wall murals in the beer garden and a characters from the films on its signs and loyalty cards.

In the words of Tolkein it's "Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it is a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort."


Saul Zaentz Company Sue The Hobbit


In early 2012, the pub received a letter from the Saul Zaentz Company (SZC) which owns the rights to several J.R.R. Tolkein associated brands. SZC asked The Hobbit to remove all reference to the characters in The Hobbit and Lord of The Rings.

SZC have a history of this sort of thing, they unsuccessfully took on 'Hobbit Travel', and are currently involved in action against 'The Hungry Hobbit' sandwich shop near Birmingham and Microlodge in Scotland who used to sell 'Hobbit Homes'.

At the time, landlady Stella Mary Roberts claimed:

"We were absolutely stunned. It was completely unexpected, we never intended to infringe anyone's copyright. Are we doing any harm? I don't think so. We're bringing people to the books and the stories who haven't heard of JRR Tolkien."

"We don't have the financial resources to fight it - I can't fight Hollywood."

Things seemed doomed for The Hobbit, but not for long. In stepped University of Southampton student Heather Cartwright and the power of social media.

Local resident Heather Cartwright was not best pleased when she heard of the complaint and decided to set up a 'Save The Hobbit' campaign which is a great template for anybody looking to start their own campaign!


The Battle for Middle Earth (Facebook)

The Hobbit pub certainly 'mustered the Rohirrim' with a 'Save The Hobbit' Facebook page which to date has amassed over 50,000 followers. Fans of the page shared their love for the pub and their hatred of corporate greed in equal measures and came up with internet memes in the hopes of going viral:


The new Facebook timeline helped maintain the momentum of the movement as the owners were able to keep important updates at the top of the page and update the cover photo. Find out how to set up your own Timeline using our Complete Guide to Facebook Timeline.

The latest cover photo is our favourite: 


The campaign also had a strong presence on Twitter using the @savethehobbit handle and #savethehobbit hashtag. Taking a page out of any social media marketer's book, the campaigners prompted their fans to tweet influential people who would help save the pub. It comes as no surprise to those who know of his love for Twitter that Stephen Fry was the first celebrity to get involved.

Stephen Fry 'Ashamed' of Hollywood

The first celebrity to join the campaign was Twitter evangelist Stephen Fry, who plays 'The Master of Laketown' in The Hobbit film later this year. After numerous tweets sent his way, Fry responded: 


Fry has over 4 million followers on Twitter so it is certain that this tweet increased the awareness of The Hobbit's plight somewhat. Anonymous were also quick to back the pub: 


Once Stephen Fry had his say the story gained national interest and was covered by many of the major newspapers and online news sites. This is when the support for the campaign substantially grew to 50,000+ followers on Facebook.

Southampton Hobbit Press Coverage

social media trainingSubstantial local support and coverage in Southampton and Hampshire press prompted larger news sites to report the story and it wasn't long before a few famous people got involved.

In part due to the hard work by The Hobbit campaigners and in part due to Stephen Fry's influence, the campaign went global and was covered by press as far ranging as the BBC News and celebrity gossip website Perez Hilton.

We've included some of the biggest headlines on the right.

Thanks to the news coverage the campaign grew even bigger and gained an even more powerful backer; Gandalf.

Gandalf Saves The Hobbit

Sir Ian McKellen, who plays the wizard Gandalf in the 'Lord of Rings' trilogy and the upcoming two-part 'The Hobbit', was the next to have his say. Writing in a blog post on his personal site, McKellen wrote that the Hobbit is 'clearly not a place to ill-treat hobbits, elves, dwarves and wizards, in any way.'


Image by Matthew Foley

McKellen even suggested that he and Fry both head to The Hobbit for a drink once they finish filming the movie of the same name.

SZC Wave the White Flag


So, what was the result of a viral social media campaign, national press coverage and the support of two major celebrities?

Film producer Paul Zaentz was quick to backtrack and contacted Hampshire paper The Daily Echo to claim that he "certainly doesn't want to run anyone out of business" and would prefer to "resolve this matter amicably." Zaentz's amicable solution is for The Hobbit to pay an annual fee of $100 to SZC in return for full usage of the brand.

It is a skilful piece of reputation management in which Zaentz allows the pub to continue while he retains the rights to the name. He portrayed himself as the good guy by offering to "raise a pint with them the next time I'm over."

Zaentz also had his say on copy right infringement, 'Regardless of the size of the company, if we didn't go after these infringements then other people would say: "If they can use them without authorisation,
why can't we?"'

This brings us to the catalyst for the entire campaign; the internet.

The Internet's Role in Hobbit Saga

Tolkein-QuoteInterestingly, Zaentz claimed that if it wasn't for the internet they never would have found out about businesses such as The Hobbit Pub, The Hungry Hobbit and Hobbit Homes and almost blames the internet for forcing him to take action.

On the other hand, without the internet SZC would have been free to force The Hobbit to change its branding without the backlash of 50,000 Facebook fans and Stephen Fry and Ian McKellen never would have found out about the campaign.

This whole episode is a warning sign to businesses that privacy and secrecy is out the window. It just takes one underhand tactic and a well crafted social media campaign for the internet to turn against you.

They All Lived Happily Ever After

Don't worry, we're not going to write five endings to this story like the Lord of the Rings, instead we bring you news that everything seems to have settled nicely.

SZC are dropping their cease-and-desist order in return for a yearly sum of $100. Even better, Ian McKellen and Stephen Fry have agreed to pay the license fee between them.

A pub that was facing a potentially business ruining decision has instead gained huge media coverage and can now operate with impunity. They can also look forward to a visit from Stephen Fry and Sir Ian McKellen.

What Social Media Marketers Can Learn From 'Save The Hobbit' Campaign

  • Be careful who you upset. Brand management 101 says that you shouldn't enter battles that you might lose and any backlash incurred could exaggerate the problem you are trying to solve.
  • Devise a slogan. 'Save The Hobbit', @savethehobbit and #savethehobbit allow supported of the campaign to get behind a common phrase that newspapers love. A slogan unites the different marketing approaches into one.
  • Contact influential people. No matter who you are there is somebody more influential than you, let them know about your campaign and they might support you. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. The Save The Hobbit campaign was greatly boosted by the support of Stephen Fry and Sir Ian McKellen.
  • Encourage fans to take part. One of the most successful elements of the campaign was UGC (user generated content). Hobbit supporters created memes and blog posts, shared links and videos and emailed, tweeted and wrote to influential people on behalf of the campaign. This is more likely to garner support than the campaign organisers doing all the promoting. In general, people are more responsive to 'buy that/their/his/her idea' than 'buy my idea'.
  • Go visual. Pictures do tell a thousand words, and people would much rather share a funny image than a serious article. One place this story would have done well is Pinterest! Pinners would have gobbled the memes up like hungry dwarves.
  • Keep track of your campaign. There are a number of social media tools to help you with this, including our downloadable Social Media Schedule.

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