I spend a large part of my working week
faffing around on blogs keeping up with the food industry news. Some of it is ho-hum, some of it is ha-ha (see my Hilarious Headlines posts here and here) and some of it is oh-no! The latter tends to results from unsavoury discoveries (think horsemeat!), or from moronic statements that a gormless company exec lets rip through one of his orifices in public.
This post is about just such a shit storm, although it is not, strictly speaking, “news” anymore. The contentious utterance seeped through the airwaves a month ago. I wanted to watch the response unfold on the interwebs, and it was worth the wait.
So, who said the stupid thing?
Guido Barilla, chairman of Italian pasta and pasta sauce maker Barilla, during a radio interview. (Barilla is the world’s leading pasta brand.)
What did he say?
Well, in response to a question regarding company’s advertising strategy, which, so far, had centred around a traditional family setting, with the mother serving food to her wedded husband and their bright eyed, bushy tailed offspring, he stated that the company would steadfastly continue to portray the “classic family” in its adverts.
Is that it..???
No. If only he’d left it at that…!
On further prodding, he said he would never use a gay couple to advertise Barilla pasta. He didn’t see things they way they did, so he continued, and if they didn’t like it, they could choose another brand of pasta.
And because his trotter clearly hadn’t sunk into the steaming pile quite far enough, he also stated that he was against homosexual couples adopting children.
(To be fair, he did say something about being in favour of gay marriage – which still lacks legal recognition in Italy – but the roar of the incredulous masses drowned that bit out.)
So, what happened next?
Well, pretty much this:
Almost immediately, the calls for a boycott started. There’s facebook page, of course there is!
But… is his opinion all that surprising?
No, there is nothing surprising at all about individuals holding these kinds of views. Nor was anyone expecting that a major food company, be it Barilla, Nestle, Kraft, Unilever, Danone or whoever, was going to feature same sex couples canoodling over their noodles or exchanging cheesy grins while spoonfeeding each other Philadelphia.
Bland and predictable continues to be the word. Let’s face it: Taking a light sabre to societal norms is not the natural terrain of companies vending kitchen cupboard staples. Grannie flashing a bare knee at gramps as she spreads Bertolli on his cracker is as edgy as it’s ever going to get.
But what I fail to understand is this: The execs of large companies are, above all, seasoned PR experts, trained not to volunteer any personal opinions or strategic data that could possibly compromise the mothership’s sales. And while a large company may ostensibly be aiming its products at a mainstream audience, WHY ON EARTH would a company boss actively go about alienating part of its consumer base?
Homosexual people, contrary to some sources, are not a mythical tribe inhabiting the deepest recesses of the Brazilian rainforest, shunning the evils of human civilisation, and in particular, dried bits of dough twisted into droll shapes. They are everybody’s family members, work colleagues, friends… In fact, a team of dedicated anthropologists who’ve been observing this species very closely in its natural habitat, aka The Real World, reported that its members eat pasta…and sometimes even TOGETHER with the “classic” people! ‘They’, one should imagine, also make up a fair number of Guido Barilla’s 14,000+ employees.
Anyway, how coming out with ill-conceived statements like these on public radio is going to bolster Barilla’s market share – which is every commercial company’s ultimate goal, surely! – remains a mystery.
Needless to say, after the public outcry broke, there was the oh-so predictable “I’m sorry if I offended anyone blah blah” fauxpology.
On the upside, the consumer backlash to such gaffes is usually quite creative. I’ve picked out a few amusing images for you:
“Here’s what our traditional family has to say to Barilla” – posted on facebook
Some were quick to seize the glaring business opportunity:
[I’ve collected these at random from various sites, if anyone would like attribution/credit for creating them, please leave a comment below, and I’ll sort it out asap.]
Is there anything more that Guido Barilla could do to smooth out the ripples in his lasagne sheets?
Hmmmm… he might want to follow the recent example of the CEO of an organisation with an even more conservative standing than his own, which manages to maintain a consumer base of around 1.2 billion, by issuing the following statement: “If a person is gay and seeks Go(o)d pasta and has
good will hard cash, who am I to judge?”