Gay rights activists have launched a boycott against Barilla after the CEO of the pasta behemoth said he would not use a gay couple in the company’s ads. Guido Barilla’s reasoning: Gays don’t fit in with the image of a “classic family.”
“For us the concept of the sacred family remains one of the basic values of the company,” he told Italian radio on Wednesday evening. “I would not do it; but not out of a lack of respect for homosexuals who have the right to do what they want without bothering others … [but] I don’t see things like they do and I think the family that we speak to is a classic family.”
Asked what effect he thought his attitude would have on gay consumers of pasta, Barilla said: “Well, if they like our pasta and our message they will eat it; if they don’t like it and they don’t like what we say they will … eat another.” (Continue reading for more on the Barilla backlash and how the CEO continues to dig himself into a hole.)
Unfortunately for Barilla, the image of the classic family is evolving and his stance is out of step with where we are in 2013. Same-sex marriage is legal in several countries including France, Spain, England, Belgium and Sweden. And we’re making considerable progress in the United States.
Just look at Wednesday night’s episode of “Modern Family.” In the season five opener, viewers not only caught up with prime-time TV’s most popular classic family, but its characters Mitch and Cam got engaged in a poignant proposal. Although the episode acknowledged the Supreme Court ruling in June overturning Proposition 8 and allowing same-sex marriage in California, it was not a political episode. It was a celebration of love, and their family was encouraging every step of the way.
Obviously Barilla’s CEO is free to do as he pleases -- it’s his company. But he should realize that his brand, like all others, has to evolve with the times. As consumers change, so too must companies that want their business. Otherwise, the companies become irrelevant and die off.
In the end, Barilla may end up being his company’s biggest enemy. But for now, gay rights activists are competing for that title with a boycott that could hurt the company’s bottom line.
But is a boycott enough to send a message? Why not also give Barilla exactly what he didn’t want: Images of same-sex couples eating his pasta. Certainly there are a few enterprising designers out there who’d want to whip up some fake ads that’d most certainly go viral. Another route: Ads with famous homophobes with taglines like, “Barilla: Vladimir Putin’s pasta of choice.”
[Updated 10:28 p.m. Sept. 26: The awesome folks at Take Part answered my request with this hilarious commercial.]