Barilla Demonstrates How Playing Politics Gets Companies Burned

Barilla has recently joined the ever-growing list of companies who are learning that it just doesn’t pay to play politics. Company CEO Guido Barilla and his pasta alike are now facing down a storm of outrage after Barilla said publically that he would “never feature a homosexual family” in his company’s advertising.

Barilla now joins the growing list of companies that are suffering for giving in to the urge to play politics.

You are certainly entitled to have whatever beliefs that you want. But you can expect that associating your brand with a political stance will have several negative consequences.


You Lose Market Share

It doesn’t matter which political opinion you espouse. Our country is stridently divided on most of the big issues.

So, any way you slice it you’re going to lose customers if you choose to pick a side. The only exception is granted to super-niche industries that only appeal to individuals who are sure to share your stance. If you’re selling vegan hemp handbags feel free to be an outspoken environmentalist. You may still want to remain silent about gay marriage or tax policy.

You Grant Companies a New USP

Bloomberg Business Week reports that Barilla’s competitor, Bertoli, responded to Barilla’s self-imposed reputation problem by releasing a flood of pro-gay ads.

Arguably, pasta is usually just a commodity product. There’s very little that most companies can do to distinguish one $1.00 box of dried flour, eggs, and water from another $1.00 box of dried flour, eggs, and water.

But now, Bertoli has brand new USP that will damage Barilla for a long time. They get to position themselves as “the tolerant good guys.” And while they, too, are technically promoting a political stance, nobody’s throwing much outrage their way. Their market share is growing, absorbing everyone who now refuses to do business with Barilla.

You Wreck Your Web Presence

Cleaning up Barilla’s web presence after this kind of a gaffe is hardly an impossible undertaking. However, it will require a significantly higher investment than it would have required just an hour before the disastrous interview.

Now the web is flooded with dozens of news stories, blog posts, and tweets. The interview was even lampooned on The Daily Show. The public isn’t likely to forget the matter quickly.

If there are any positive returns to be had for aligning one’s business message with a particular political message they are ultimately quite difficult to see. Resist the urge, and you’ll find online reputation management becomes far easier.