Anyone for pasta?

pasta

Apparently, not just anyone can enjoy a plate of any pasta. Pasta apartheid became a reality this week with an announcement by the CEO of Barilla:

“I wouldn’t do an ad with a homosexual family not because I disrespect gays – they have their right to do whatever they want without disturbing others – but because I don’t think like them and I think that the family we try to address is anyway a classic family.”

And you can imagine the reaction across the Internet to that statement! Here’s are some samples.

The BBC reported it thus: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-24287108

Huff Post Live reported it thus: http://youtu.be/r8btsIZNP8I

Barilla’s competitors leaped to grab the market share as they saw it leak away like a watery tomato sauce through a tube of macaroni: http://www.adweek.com/adfreak/bertolli-makes-most-barilla-chairmans-anti-gay-comments-152758

And, the obligatory funny videos and instagrams appeared: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tNxLBqjtfYA (some people have too much time on their hands!)

So, we then had the usual contrite apology “for any offense caused by my remarks”, which Barilla mucked up the first time and so had to do again with more sincerity(!): https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10100857134817001&set=vb.184778364902413&type=2&theater

We also had this week the saga of the inflatable gay-best-friend dolls (and psych-ward Halloween costumes) at Tesco, which was covered by Huffington Post thus: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2013/09/27/inflatable-best-friend-tesco-gay-dirty-word_n_4001455.html?1380280851&utm_hp_ref=uk

And, days later, we had the apology: http://news.sky.com/story/1147246/tesco-sorry-over-gay-best-friend-doll

I don’t know about you, but I’m getting sick of these slip-ups by corporate giants. They all know about corporate social responsibility. They know what you can and can’t say. Most of them probably have a manager dedicated to it, so why do they continue to make these gaffs? Are these behemoths so badly run? If this is incompetence, share prices should be tanking through a deep lack of confidence in the board.

Call me cynical, but could it be because, rather than turning people off their products, it generates a ton of free publicity? I’d never heard of Barilla until this week. I don’t even know whether it is sold in the U.K. I haven’t gone looking for it. But I know it now, and you can bet that when I’m next in the pasta aisle, and I spot a Barilla packet, I’ll think, “Oh, yes, I know them”. The question is will I remember why I know them?

Money cannot buy the kind of exposure that a week of controversy affords a company. And we all buy into it. I’m doing it now! Those of us on social media, and that’s most of us in some way, whether in the capacity of a giant media corp or an individual, are constantly scanning for new content. It is so easy to pick up on a story and knee-jerk an affronted reaction to millions of people. Strong opinion drives people to your feed and that’s all good. Right?

Well, not always. What the Barilla story demonstrates is that, far from #boicottabarilla, the LGBT community’s sharing of the story has handed Barilla a massive marketing boost. I know that there is an argument that says corporates should be held to account for their comments, but has Barilla really been held to account? Do we really believe that the CEO’s stance has changed on this issue? Are Barilla going to release an advert featuring a gay couple? No, of course not. Apologies are always “for the offense caused”, not for the action in causing it. CEOs rarely admit they’re wrong. Nobody ever includes in their apology that they will be changing their marketing approach. For one thing, they can’t. Marketing budgets, and strategies, and slots are set months in advance. To reroute a marketing campaign mid-flow would be a massive and costly exercise for these giants.

My conclusion: the best way for a community offended by the comments of a commercial enterprise to react is not to react. Or, at least, not to react on the Internet. It never achieves what the community wants, i.e. to shut down the company concerned. Next time you see an opportunity to jump on a virtual bandwagon against a corporate, count to ten. If, after consideration, you still feel the need to take action, write an old fashioned letter to a body that can really hit them where it hurts.

Copyright © 2013 Liberation Publishing (www.liberationpublishing.co.uk)

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