Consumer Insights · Media Strategy · Brand Planning | Los Angeles, CA

Barilla: Homophobic Pasta?

SpaghettiAh, the weekend trip to Ralph’s. California’s version of Kroger supermarkets is no H-E-B, but I’ve learned to make do. This weekend, I decided to buy some pasta. As I walked up the aisle starting to weigh my options, one brand in particular did catch my eye, unfortunately.

A couple weeks ago, Italian pasta magnate, Guido Barilla took it upon himself to tell an interviewer his company would never feature a homosexual couple in its ads. The comments, as well as the clunky crisis management in their wake, had the net effect of leaving an indelible stamp of homophobia on a brand of pasta.

Homophobic pasta…it doesn’t really make sense. The product’s appeal doesn’t have anything to do with sexual orientation. I don’t have any reason to think the day to day operations of the company involve any discrimination. If the world hadn’t received Guido’s impromptu corporate policy memo, we’d have no reason to suppose there was any particular anti-gay policy in their advertising either. Consumers don’t traditionally stop to think whether the company that bakes their bread is in favor of gays in the military or their laundry detergent company takes a position on interracial marriage. Even seeing behind the curtain of marketing to the extent I do, I generally operate under the assumption that companies exist to…you know…sell things, make profits, pay shareholders, that kind of thing.

Not that advertisers always make the most progressive decisions–the fact that it would be a mild surprise to see a gay couple in a pasta spot attests to this. But at least corporate stodginess usually driven on some level by not being off-putting to any potential customers. After all, Republicans buy shoes too.

But now we all know Barilla is homophobic pasta, just like we know Chik-Fil-A makes homophobic chicken sandwiches. Frankly I don’t care what Guido Barilla thinks about gay marriage. As I walked through the store this weekend, I passed people who look, behave, worship and think differently from me. If we all got together and unpacked all that, we might create some conflicts. But we don’t, because part of civil society is allowing people to have their own lifestyle and opinions, and yet still stand in a checkout line together without a second thought. My fellow shoppers, Guido, and I are all free to have our own opinions. There’s a time and a place to sort out politics and values, but this simply isn’t it.

So for the sake of their employees, their customers, their owners, partners and the public at large, I wish management would stop dragging their companies into their own ideological battles. And we could all just make linguine, not a political statement.

As a bit of a prologue, something good did come of this silliness: at least one competitor has made it clear they welcome everyone to their table. I suppose that’s a small piece of progress.


Photo: “spaghetti e rucola” – seelenstrum

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