Now that the Barilla Pasta water has had a chance to cool down (a little bit), we think that this would be a great time to discuss what they did and how they did it.
As many of you probably have heard about, read about or been a part of the recent story about Barilla Pasta’s Chairman, Guido Barilla, making comments about the use of homosexual individuals and/or “nontraditional families” in their advertisements. It’s no secret that this is a hot-button issue in today’s modern society.
Instead of taking a stroll down the path of the issue, we are going to analyze how companies and organizations, both large and small, are handling these situations when they arise. So what happened? Well, briefly, the president of Italy-based, but globally popular pasta company, Barilla, was quoted saying that he would not feature same-sex couples in his company’s commercials or advertisements. He claims to have said this not out of disrespect to those individuals and couples, but because he does not define same-sex couples as a “classic family.” Everyone has the freedom to take his or her own stance on this issue but how did Guido Barilla handle this?
In the days following his comments, and in the midst of the boiling comments across news and social media platforms, representatives from Barilla released apologetic statements. However, outraged consumers of the brand’s pasta and other activists demanded an apology or response from the one who made the comments. In response, and possibly in desperation, Guido Barilla released a short apology video:
In the short moments after the video was made public, it stirred the pot of comments and opinions once again. Some say that Barilla should not have to apologize for his beliefs while others discuss (and actively engage in) boycotting Barilla pasta entirely.
This has been a point of discussion here in the Gavin office and is good to analyze and learn from what other companies are doing and how they are handling situations and crisis management. Meagan Feeser, Director of Public Relations at Gavin made a good point when it comes to a company’s culture by stating, “All brands are built upon mission and vision statements. For Barilla, apparently ‘the concept of the sacred family remains one of the basic values of the company.’ At Gavin, we believe in truth in branding, but if your brand is built on concepts that may be considered polarizing to some audiences, you have to expect that your brand’s core values will not be shared.”
Another part of the discussion revolves around the state of today’s political and social world. Whether it is social media, news channels or personal contact, connections today are instantaneous and in many cases, irrevocable. Lauren Bowers, Marketing and Communications Coordinator at Gavin, touched on this in terms of the Barilla issue: “The political and social world is more critical today than ever before. News spreads fast, and an inconsistent, unclear message clouded with political views and/or social views could mean impending doom. If you’re willing to take a risk and mix your company’s brand with political or social views, I would hope you have a crisis plan prepared for handling any backlash.”
So the Gavin verdict is this: given the history of consumer backlash, company leaders need to recognize that despite having free speech rights to express controversial social views, their ultimate focus and concern should be preserving their brand. Companies (big or small) should always act in the best interest of their staff, customers and reputation – even if that means restraining expression of personal opinion.
What do you think?
Should the private political/social views of a company’s management personnel be kept separate from the business entity, or do the two play nicely together?