Talk about putting your foot in it. How would you like to be the head of Public Relations at Barilla pasta? Last week their Chairman put both feet in it when he declared on public radio that they would never make a commercial featuring a gay or lesbian family. And then he reinforced his view that women are central to the traditional family and by implication, as depicted in company advertising, belong in the home waiting on the dinner table. Oy. Still it isn’t the first example of companies that seem to be totally desensitized to issues of great importance to many people. The problem is that so often CEO’s are isolated and rarely challenged internally by their organizations. And so many of them spurn preparation before taking on questions of this kind. They think they have all the answers.
But there is another issue at work here that I tried to explain during my interview with CTV News. Guido Barilla, the fourth generation Chairman of the largest pasta maker in the world is a citizen of Italy, a country where Silvio Berlusconi still wields considerable power — despite the squeaker in today’s vote. Sarcasm aside, international companies need to be mindful that values hold sway in one geography may not play well elsewhere. And, while the breath of fresh wind coming from Pope Francis provides hope for change, Italy remains a Catholic country. Many people continue to hold very traditional views on family.
The whole fiasco reminds us yet again of the power of social media to bring down giants.
The whole thing was so unnecessary. All Mr. Barilla had to do was say “We invest a lot of money and research in trying to understand our core consumer. The bulk of our advertising spend is directed to this segment of the market. That isn’t to say that other segments aren’t important to us, but we try to reach them through other channels.”
End of story. Why don’t they ever stick to the script?