If you’re tempted to feel sorry for Guido Barilla, resist the urge. The chairman of Barilla Group, the world’s leading pasta maker, blundered wildly in an Italian radio interview last week as he tried to justify why his company doesn’t feature gay families in its advertising. From a business perspective – never mind society in general – no one who heads a company of any size could be excused such a miscue.
In one of the more forgiving and contextualized translations of his remarks, Barilla said his family-owned company had “a slightly different culture” about the “traditional” family. “If gays like our pasta and our advertisings, they will eat our pasta; if they don’t like that, they will eat someone else’s pasta. You can’t always please everyone not to displease anyone,” he said. Excluding gays was “not for lack of respect toward homosexuals – who have the right to do whatever they want without disturbing others – but because I don’t agree with them, and I think we want to talk to traditional families.”
The LGBT activist community took up Barilla’s invitation to “eat someone elses’s pasta,” winning broader support for boycotts as the CEO tried to apologize and walk back for his remarks. Buona fortuna with that. Thanks to his misplaced candor, Barilla’s pasta isn’t the only thing morally-outraged consumers aren’t buying.
THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) to Barilla and its CEO, for a PR disaster that undid years of built-up brand goodwill in a matter of seconds.
THE PR TAKEAWAY: Leave personal politics in the kitchen, away from your business, your branding and – per favore! – any microphones. This is especially true for broad consumer brands. If you get thrown a curveball question in an interview, be ready to demur. Your attempt at a nuanced explanation won’t survive the news cycle, much less translation, and in today’s linked-up world, transmission happens almost instantly. Finally, be prepared with a contingency plan that says more than “I’m sorry.” Barilla needs to take positive corrective action to show a true change of heart, not just remorse.