Many Costa Concordia scale disasters for brands are not of their own making. But the most recent large-scale brand miscommunication came from Barilla Pasta’s CEO himself. In an Italian radio interview, Barilla Pasta Chairman Guido Barilla stated that, “I would never do [a commercial] with a homosexual family, not for lack of respect, but because we don’t agree with them,” adding, “Ours is a classic family where the woman plays a fundamental role,” and opined that if gays “like our pasta and our advertising, they’ll eat our pasta. If they don’t like it, then they will not eat it and they will eat another brand.”
While it’s possible to argue that Barilla Pasta made a corporate decision not to pursue the LGBT market segment as Expedia.com did (see separate post), the comment added an insulting and discriminatory tone to what should have been a dry, detached and professional The backlash began immediately thereafter, in both the press and online. Posted on Barilla’s English/US page, US Twitter and Facebook pages are hundreds of comments condemning Barilla’s statement. Mentions of boycotting the product are prominent.
September 26, 2013 Sue London @cmdrsue @geekwithsoul @BarillaUS – ”It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.” ~ Warren Buffett https://twitter.com/BarillaUS
September 26, 2013 Max Handelsman @MaxH42 - “gays…can go an eat another brand” says @Barilla CEO; well, so can my family and I, @BarillaUs http://huff.to/1eJZHCn #boycottbarilla https://twitter.com/search?q=Barilla%20boycott&src=typd
September 26, 2013 Amanda Katz @katzish - Wait a minute, Barilla is actually *instructing* gay people to go eat another brand? What is this, an auto-boycott? http://bit.ly/194sf1c https://twitter.com/search?q=Barilla%20boycott&src=typd
September 26, 2013 Rob Ryan – You have no idea how irresponsibly your “leader” spoke today. You will never shake this. #boycottbarilla https://www.facebook.com/BarillaUS
September 26, 2013 George Briggs - Screw you, Barilla. If we’re not good enough, in your eyes, to adopt, then we’re not good enough to eat your pasta. Pasta is a dime a dozen. You’ll easily be replaced in my household https://www.facebook.com/BarillaUS
A pair of tweeted apologies appeared on both Barilla’s main twitter page and another on the Barilla US twitter page both posted the same day, September 26th. A rough translation from the original Italian using Google Translate shows a tweet allegedly from Guido Barilla:
September 26, 2013 I apologize very much for having offended the sensibilities of many. I have the deepest # respect for all # people without distinction. Guido # Barilla https://twitter.com/Barilla/status/383211835341537281
Barilla US’s Facebook page carried a more straightforward, if unattributed, apology, as did their twitter feed.
September 26, 2013 While we cannot undo words that have been said, we can apologize. To all of those that we have hurt or offended, we are deeply sorry. https://twitter.com/BarillaUS/status/383346542218084352
Reactions from online constituents ran the spectrum from disbelief to condemnation.
September 26, 2013 Tom Brennan @Brennanator - @stiricide @BarillaUS Yeah, a corporation can pretty easily undo words “we were wrong & we take it back. We were wrong for being hateful” https://twitter.com/BarillaUS/status/383346542218084352
September 26, 2013 David De Maria I’m Italian, I’m gay, I’m married legally to a man, I have three adopted children. I had Barilla pasta for dinner last night. Today, tomorrow and forever more I will choose another brand of pasta. Good bye Barilla! You lose!!! https://www.facebook.com/BarillaUS
September 26, 2013 Tori @Slayingallhoes - @BarillaUS watch your sales drop like crazy. Lol idiots using homophobia in 2013 get shut down quicker than #sweetcupcakes on Oregon. Lol https://twitter.com/BarillaUS/status/383346542218084352
September 26, 2013 Floraldisney - oh, fuck off. saying “I’m sorry you were offended” isn’t an apology. http://ohnotheydidnt.livejournal.com/81887096.html
September 26, 2013 Ericasays - see, i think saying, “i’m sorry IF you were offended” is way more insulting than saying “i’m sorry i offended you”. at least the latter is acknowledging the insult, as opposed to being like, you took offense to what i said? tough titties. http://ohnotheydidnt.livejournal.com/81887096.html
September 26, 2013 Floraldisney - I guess so, but it’s still a half assed apology. for it to be real they need to actually do something to make it up as well. http://ohnotheydidnt.livejournal.com/81887096.html
Guido Barillo’s opinions apparently reflect a larger anti-gay sentiment in Italy. Parallel comparisons are made with the anti-gay practices and policies also found in Russia. However, anti-gay sentiment and practices are declining in Western Europe, along with North and South America. Even so, discussion and argument move forward with opinions coming from those who support LBGT rights being opposed by others who express support for Barilla. The spectrum of this opposition range from those who support Mr. Barilla’s right to free speech to others who express a more homophobic point of view.
September 26, 2013 Brian Mouland - Has anyone figured out that Barilla probably sells three or four more times more pasta to families than it does to gays. Thus why offend your primary market by putting homosexuals in commercials. This policy makes perfect sense no wonder the leftie looners can’t grasp it http://nypost.com/2013/09/26/barilla-chairman-gays-can-eat-someone-elses-pasta/
September 26, 2013 FrankyCrisp - The lesson here is that if a consumer product doesn’t feature gays and their lifestyle in its advertising, it is a logical conclusion that the product and/or its manufacturer is anti-gay and must be removed from society. Gays seem to be less tolerant of others beliefs while they try and legitimize their perversions of family life. http://nypost.com/2013/09/26/barilla-chairman-gays-can-eat-someone-elses-pasta/
September 28, 2013 He never said “he would never consider showing anyone gay in an advert”….that is just what you wanted to hear. What I heard was that he advertises to “people”…not by targeted ad towards gays, blacks, asians, affluent people, Italians, music lovers, etc. He was trying to avoid exactly what you infer that he feels…bias. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michelangelo-signorile/why-barilla-pasta-ceo-is_b_4002085.html
September 28, 2013 vonrall - Barilla has made a great daring PR move . This is a smart guy and would not make a remark like this without thinking of the result for his business. While he may lose some buyers for a while (until it blows over, not too far in the future) he stands to gain far more. Now his brand is set aside with PR you couldn’t buy. Barrilla pasta is sold world wide , so in areas where Gays are not so popular (Muslim counties, Italy, Russia, etc) sales will probably take an uptick. Chick-A fil made out fine with huge free PR, ultimately the LG community does not have enough buying power to damage really big companies , it’s mostly small chains and mom and pop businesses they can damage if they are in a urban area. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michelangelo-signorile/why-barilla-pasta-ceo-is_b_4002085.html
September 27th saw Guido Barilla appear in two YouTube videos, one on the regular Barilla Channel in Italian, the other posted by BarillaUS.
Both videos were an effort at damage control for the brand. The English version contained an apology of the sort that could only be written by a committee of corporate lawyers. Clearly, the apologies were spoken by the head of a corporation that suddenly found itself embattled from all over the world, and all at once. But while the Italian YouTube Barilla Channel left the Comments function on, the US site disabled comments. But feedback was forthcoming regardless.
September 30, 2013 Michael Crumpton - I’ll bet he wishes he just kept his mouth shut in the first place. Even if he totally reverses his stance, the damage has been done, and will likely remain for years. I wonder how many millions this cost his company. http://thinkprogress.org/lgbt/2013/09/30/2698641/barilla-pasta-non-apology/
September 28, 2013 Sharon Hayakawa Sounds like he is losing money and realizes it’s actually a serious offense to say the things he said. Unfortunate for him that he said what he said, because there’s no do-overs when it comes to making that statement. I am not gay, bi, or other, but friends and family members are. I do not have a reason to accept that his comment, or apology, as it seems very insincere, and comes too late. https://www.facebook.com/AynRandSS?ref=br_tf
A handful of bilingual constituents suggest that there were differences in the texts between the Italian and English versions of Guido Barilla’s YouTube apologies. However, lacking a reliable translation in the data, this claim could not be substantiated.
September 27, 2013 Alessio De Giorgi Why you apologize only on the us market and not in the European and your own Italian market? I don’t believe you. https://www.facebook.com/BarillaUS
With the apology, came a slight uptick in the number of posts defending Barilla the brand, and in most cases, Guido Barilla’s original comments. Many constituents see the boycott as an attack on the company by homosexuals who will use anything to further their agenda.
September 27, 2013 John Williams No need for any apology to an insensitive group that refuses to accept the fact that some people do not approve of their choice of lifestyle and then that same group DISCRIMINATES against those that have a different view. Mr. Barilla has EVERY right to speak his own mind and express his own opinion, especially as the OWNER of the company. I am sick of having opposing OPINIONS and VIEWS rammed down my throat. Whether I approve of the gay lifestyle is of no import – just as their opinion of MY choice of a heterosexual life style has NO meaning to me. I will most definitely go out of my way to SUPPORT Barilla and use no other pasta products from now on. Interesting how DIVERSITY only applies to force their agenda on the rest of us (vast majority). https://www.facebook.com/BarillaUS
September 28, 2013 steve larson I believe Mr. Barrila’s remarks could have been phrased in a more courteous manner, but Mr. Barilla is entitled to his feelings, to his opinion and to his personal views, as is everyone else. I support traditional family roles as honoring God and I believe that the traditional family is worthy of support. I will choose to honor those who honor God with my purchasing dollars. Barilla has done nothing wrong in choosing to pursue traditional family roles in it’s advertising. Barilla, you’re in; Bertolli, you’re out. http://www.forbes.com/sites/lauraheller/2013/09/28/barilla-earns-gay-boycott-learns-taking-sides-is-bad-for-business/2/
Comments supporting Barilla from September 27th onward contain elements of social, religious and political conservancy, anti-gay bias, or express the idea that Guido Barilla’s opinions are protected by his right to Freedom of Speech, which is a protection often cited by the right wing of the United States political system.
It is any corporation’s right to decide whether or not to reach a particular segment of the pasta buying public. But in choosing to ignore or bypass one group in particular, it is still incumbent on brand stewards to act diplomatically to all potential customers, whether they’re engaged with the brand or not. Like the ill-fated luxury cruise liner Costa Concordia, Guido Barilla’s comments have put the otherwise staid Barilla brand onto the rocks of public opinion. The apparent thoughtlessness of Guido Barilla’s original comment has done major damage to the brand in both the US and abroad. However, the recent uptick in the number of posts defending the Barilla executive has provided significant pushback against the initial tide that intends to boycott the brand.
While it is still too soon to make a final determination as to the outcome of this controversy, history has shown that brands in difficult positions often opt to engage those groups arrayed against it and come to embrace one or more of the opposition’s points of view as its own. No doubt, Barilla will do much of that in the days and weeks to come. Whether it means that we will see gays appearing in Barilla’s advertising and brand communications remains to be seen. Fortunately for us, the online constituencies will let us know by dint of their online conversations. We can see it happen virtually as it happens, online.