Posted by Sarah Ryan
Pasta and chicken sandwiches are all relatively well-known consumer items in America. Within each category there are countless brands, trying to prove why they’re better than the rest. At the end of the day it’s all just consumer products.
Should carbs have an opinion about society’s biggest issues? Whether you agree or disagree, today brands are being prompted to respond with their views.
In September, I was shocked to read that the popular pasta brand, Barilla had released a statement on gay marriage. Guido Barilla, Barilla’s Chairman, created an international upset when he stated that he would never feature a gay couple in his ads, adding if homosexuals don’t like it, they can buy another brand. Pasta lovers everywhere were outraged and took to social media, creating the hashtag #BoycottBarilla.
I wasn’t as struck that he made the comment, but I kept asking myself why he made the comment. Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion, but do consumer brands need to take a stance on these issues? Barilla’s crisis communication team attempted to amend the situation, but Guido Barilla seemed reluctant to follow the textbook guide to cleaning up a reputation – it seemed he didn’t want to apologize.
It got me thinking – maybe he doesn’t want to apologize. I’m not agreeing with his decision or endorsing other companies to follow the same protocol, but could having an opinion set your brand apart from the rest and create a more genuine connection to consumers?
In an interesting Forbes article, contributor Phil Johnson argues that there is a new marketing trend: “the ability to differentiate between brands based on what stand they take on significant societal issues.” Johnson framed the article around Dan Cathy’s public statement regarding his stance on gay marriage. Chick-fil-A was all over the news when his opinions hit the press, but Johnson also noted that Cathy, “crystallized a position in the market and created a point of differentiation that consumers immediately grasp.”
Our opinions on society’s most pressing issues define us as individuals, but should it also be a defining factor for brands? As brands are continually poked and prodded by lobbyists, activists and anyone else who wants an answer, it’s becoming more difficult to appease the masses. Will brands continue to appeal to all customers or take a side, regardless of the repercussions? We will have to wait and see.