Reputation Can Be Lost in an Instant on Social Media


Here was the right answer:

“We feature families who love pasta in our commercials. That’s because we make the best pasta in the world. Anyone who loves pasta – no matter your color or sexual orientation – has a home with Barilla.”

Here was the wrong answer:

“For us, the sacral family remains one of the company’s core values. Our family is a traditional family. If gays like our pasta and our advertising, they will eat our pasta; if they don’t like that, they will eat someone else’s pasta. I would not do a commercial with a homosexual family, not for lack of respect toward homosexuals — who have the right to do whatever they want without disturbing others — but because I don’t agree with them and I think we want to talk to traditional families.”

Unfortunately, the chairman of Barilla, Guido Barilla, went with the wrong answer when asked during a media interview if he would consider using gay couples in his company’s TV ads.

And his company is paying the consequences: a global firestorm. Barilla is being ridiculed and savaged all over social media – and in the traditional media. There is a full-scale boycott of Barilla products growing not by the hour, but by the minute. Sales are going to suffer. It remains to be seen whether the damage is permanent.

Mr. Barilla’s follow-up “apology” only added fuel to the fire as he managed to cement his anti-gay credentials and come across as a misogynist with conceptions about women ripped out of the late 1940s.

What happened?

A company chairman forgot that he wasn’t speaking for himself – but as a representative for a global company that is the world’s largest seller of pasta and that employs more than 14,000 people. Instead he let his own prejudices redefine his company. Mr. Barilla forgot a very important lesson:

It can take years, even decades, to craft a respected brand reputation and just a few seconds to lose it.

Should Mr. Barilla have lied when asked about using a gay couple in his company’s advertisements? Of course not. But he should not have answered as an individual. He should have answered as the chairman of Barilla Group, who, if he’s any kind of smart businessman, simply wants to sell pasta to people who buy pasta – no matter who they are.

And that’s why he should have chosen the right answer.

Are people wrong to boycott Barilla because of the prejudices of its CEO?

Of course not. The most powerful way to make change in this world is through economics. Money talks. When a mass of people can make a statement – and one that will harm the business interests of a transnational company – they should take it. This is how change happens in today’s world. When you punish companies in the wallet for polluting, mistreatment of employees, bad service, bad products and for things like bigotry – it sends a message they can’t ignore.

The same goes the other way, too. Reward companies that do good things: like give money to charities, pay living wages, and implement environmental programs. That sends a message, too.

What are your thoughts on Barilla and its chairman? Are you going to boycott? Or do side with Barilla?


Huffington Post “Barilla Chairman Stands by Anti-Gay Ad Policy”

USA Today “Barilla execs comments on gays sparks boycott”

National Tragedies are for People, not Brands

4 Responses to “Reputation Can Be Lost in an Instant on Social Media”

  1. My thoughts are holy crap, people, it’s a box of noodles. Maybe there are better fights, better uses of our time and energy, better reasons to mobilize political effort (on either side).
    I get that what he said was a horrible response. My initial thought was, why was he asked?
    1) Someone out there is watching to see whether every company puts out a same-sex commercial for their product?
    or 2) The interviewer knew the question would get a headline-grabbing response.
    I buy Barilla, I buy other brands. I buy Starbucks coffee, and eat at Chick-fil-A, and don’t feel conflicted about it at all. Because I like coffee. And I like chicken.
    And I like pasta.

  2. It’s really simple and nothing to get too amped up about, IMHO. You can express your beliefs publicly in a free society. If I don’t like your beliefs or happen to belong to one of the groups for which you express disdain, I don’t associate with you or, in the case of a business, spend my money with you. If you get your ass handed to you in the court of public opinion, don’t be a pussy about it. You got your free say, now I and the other aggrieved homos will have ours.

  3. Hi SonWorshipper:
    I think we just think differently. Spending money on a brand is an endorsement – the highest kind of endorsement. I like to reward brands with my loyalty who I respect and feel reflect the way I want the world to be. So I’m NOT going to pump my hard earned money into companies that I know pollute, treat employees poorly and make bad products. I reward companies that do good with the highest kind of praise – giving them my business. Brands change their behaviors when they are affected in the pocketbook. My bet is that Barilla has a same-sex couple eating pasta within the next two years.

  4. True…great article

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