My Facebook stream blew up yesterday as my entire universe of progressive friends and family (as in, pretty much all of them), spread the news about the recent remarks of Barilla chairman, Guido Barilla, on an Italian radio program about his feelings on gay families in advertisements.
Please let me know if you’ve seen a credit for this beautiful piece
The chairman stated “I would never do (a commercial) with a homosexual family, not for lack of respect but because we don’t agree with them. Ours is a classic family where the woman plays a fundamental role.”
He went on to say that while he is in favor of gay marriage, despite its illegality in Italy, he opposes adoption by gay parents because children without parents don’t deserve loving homes with loving couples with a profound commitment to one another and to the family unit.
No wait…he gave a different reason. Sorry about that.
That’s why you check Snopes and don’t just trust any crap you read on some blog.
Now obviously this has brought out thousands of people to speak up on the Facebook page. Some rightfully angry:
Some thoughtfully disappointed:
Some defiantly supportive:
Some supportive with arguments that are tough to defend these days
Annnnd some who need lessons in critical thinking and debate.
Ah! The Internets. So much fun.
However, this is probably my favorite response I’ve seen, forgiving the typo:
And I love seeing now how thoughtfulness is now overtaking the initial rage and passion that people have felt about this.
This is the 21st century, and this is how marketing controversies play out in public. As we well know.
Of course I can’t help but grapple with my own feelings about this from a marketing perspective. I wrote on Liza’s Facebook page:
Bums me out. But…do you know how many brands will never feature gay couples in their ads? Let’s say, 98% of them. Those brands just don’t mention it on radio interviews; they only reject storyboards from their ad agencies.
I know this first-hand: It is hard for brands to promote progressive values that may incite controversy. I know this from having presented ads featuring gay couples in very matter-of-fact situations and had clients–some from more progressive companies than you’d imagine–look at me like I had six heads, one of them possibly gay. (It was sporting a single earring in the right ear and singing Liza Minelli show tunes, I guess.)
I know this because one time, not so long ago, when I tried to cast a black woman in an ad–doing nothing particularly interesting–I was told by a client that “we’re just not ready for that yet.”
They went with a redhead instead. You know, for diversity sake.
I know this because way back in the dark ages, I had just finished the rough cut of an ad featuring Magic Johnson–the day he announced he was HIV positive. At the time, no one famous was HIV positive, especially not heterosexual sports heroes. In determining what to do with the ad, after some national publicity about it, we grappled with bomb scares and death threats at the agency for several weeks–from both sides. It was a harsh lesson.
The reality is that marketers are conservative by nature. Not conservative politically per se, but looking to offend the fewest people by running the most benign advertising that focus groups won’t ding.
For God’s sake, a totally sweet, benign Cheerios ad featuring a multicultural family garnered all sorts of controversy. I mean, this family is what America looks like now. There is absolutely nothing controversial about this, at least from my vantage point from Liberal Brooklyn, New York, America.
Now, I am 100% supportive of voting with your wallets and supporting the companies you feel good about. I do it myself.
The challenge is, what are we voting for exactly? Where do we draw the line?
Are we voting in response to a company’s public statements or a chairman’s personal ones? Are we voting against an online auction site that has no minorities or women in executive positions, even if they offer LGBT benefits? How about a clothing retailer that does great things for the environment and local business, but features half-naked, barely legal women posing like porn star in their ad? What about a major pharma company that’s been sued many times over for sexual discrimination, but whose products help keep your grandmother alive?
It’s brutal once you start breaking it down.
And, when you do make a decision about what to buy and what not to, then what? Publicly boycott? Write letters and sign Change.org petitions? Quietly support a competitor? Keep eating that fried chicken but feel really really bad about it?
(I have a liberal friend who can’t stop eating Chic-Fil-A and so every time she does, she makes an equal donation to Planned Parenthood. Instead of carbon credits to offset environmental violations, it’s like women’s credits. Brilliant.)
Years back, I refused to work on a piece of business at an ad agency where I was working, because I find the values of the founding chairman abhorrent and would hate to put one penny in his pocket that will go toward causes that make me physically ill. It created about a day of friction between me and our chairman before we hugged it out and he allowed me to move quietly onto automotive accounts which pollute the environment, or packaged goods brands that test on animals.
And I’m only being a little facetious.
See, here’s the thing: We have to pick our battles. Me as a marketer, and all of us as consumers. Unfortunately the entire universe of marketers is not run by Ben and Jerry, who changed “Chubby Hubby” to “Hubby Hubby” in support of the legalization of same-sex marriage in Vermont in 2009.
Of course lesbians everywhere were offended by the patriarchal decision.
What I said on Liza’s thread is true–the great majority companies simply don’t want to push cultural boundaries, promote a progressive agenda, or make waves whatsoever. So I salute those who do feature and support all kinds of loving families: Ben + Jerry’s, IKEA, General Mills, JCPenney, Expedia, Unilever. And of course my old clients at Mistic and Snapple who were willing to approve the first ever ad featuring two gay women coming out to their parents. I will always be grateful to Ken Gilbert for pushing that campaign through as a marketing director and to Julie Bowen (yes that Julie Bowen) for playing “Liz” so beautifully and being so supportive of the effort–even after she became famous.
Barilla has since issued a corporate apology on their Facebook page:
At Barilla, we consider it our mission to treat our consumers and partners as our neighbors – with love and respect – and to deliver the very best products possible. We take this responsibility seriously and consider it a core part of who we are as a family-owned company. While we can’t undo recent remarks, we can apologize. To all of our friends, family, employees, and partners that we have hurt or offended, we are deeply sorry.
But is it true? Is it enough?
Is it enough for you?
I’m not sure if it’s enough for me. And I currently have 10 boxes of Barilla pasta in my pantry.