Barilla: When personal values become brand values

October 10, 2013

As I walked the aisles of my local Shop Rite over the weekend, a thought popped into my head. Grocery shopping used to be a no-brainer. Now, it’s become a political statement.

Within hours of an interview given by company Chairman Guido Barilla on the Italian radio program La Zanzara (The Mosquito), the social media universe exploded. Barilla’s comments around same-sex families and positing on a woman’s ‘fundamental’ role in ‘classic’ families spurred an onslaught of outrage and the generation of multiple petitions calling for a boycott of the company’s products. While offended by the clearly homophobic comments, some people were also put off by Barilla’s assumption that only those of us with XX chromosomes can boil a pot of water for pasta (as our manly husbands and perfect children gaze on). From a strategic messaging point of view, this interview got bonus points for offending on many levels.

So, a simple Saturday afternoon of errands becomes an exercise in personal values and principles: picking up some toothpaste at Walmart? Not until they enact better labor practices. A quick bite at McDonalds? Not until they pay their employees a living wage. Some craft supplies at Hobby Lobby? Not if you are Jewish. Smithfield ham for dinner? From Chinese pigs?—no thanks.

Thanks to the Internet, informed consumers can now vote with their wallet and support the brands that best align with their values – and the good news is, there are choices out there. Competitors such as DeCecco and Buitoni wasted no time slamming Barilla and claiming ‘Pasta for all’. However, I’m sure that for as many consumers as Barilla may have lost with its homophobic (and unenlightened) comments, they gained an equal number of consumers who share the Chairman's point of view. But you have to wonder why any company would actively discourage ANY consumer from walking through their doors or buying their products.

What are some brands that have personally offended you and what have you done to come to terms with it?

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