Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Squawk, squawk: Chick-fil-A

In June, I talked in my research class about the terms "gay marriage," "same-sex marriage," and "marriage equality." We discussed how words have a history, and how Americans who are now choosing among these terms may be making value statements through these choices. I urged students to use research methods when the meaning of words was up for grabs, in flux, or value-laden. And I also firmly talked about my own preference for the term "marriage equality," because I had made a personal choice to see the debate as firmly in the realm of civil rights. While those other terms are sometimes used interchangeably with marriage equality, I believe this terms may best encapsulate the direction that many Americans are moving in their thinking.

It does take humans time to get used to new ideas, and these three terms show an evolution of this idea, that two people who love one another should be able to marry, no gender "test" need apply.

For many months now, I've been aware of the gay community's and the marriage-equality supporters' frustration with and condemnation of Chick-fil-A. My friends, on Facebook and otherwise, have kept me up-to-date on the company's long-standing financial support for organizations that oppose marriage equality.

Earlier today, I was asked to comment on what public relations advice I would offer Chick-fil-A to recover from the crisis, in two sentences. That's hard to do, especially when things are complicated. It goes without saying that I think this private company's founder is wrong, but of course free to state his opinion and accept the economic consequences.

Companies are, more than ever, pouring thousands and sometimes millions of dollars to support all kinds of political causes. These companies and their owners or leaders can't then be surprised when their customers push back through boycott or protest. If companies want to be political, and apparently Chick-fil-A has made this conscious decision to do so, then they will be exposed to their own form of "voting," when people choose either to spend or to avoid spending as customers.

My comment, however, was short and sweet, and based on public relations business advice:

I would advocate that Chick-fil-A remember its core business and long-time customers, first and foremost, unless the founder has something new to say or a change of heart. It's hard to take that long view, but most customers live in the moderate middle ground and just want to eat good chicken sandwiches.

I hope that the owner might change his mind, but I doubt it. I hope that he and his private company might stop supporting causes that I see as opposed to civil rights. I've been eating less and less at Chick-fil-A since 2011, and for me, the brand is definitely tarnished. If I had space to offer more advice for Chick-fil-A, it would be to reach out to all customers and publics, to foster dialogue, and to listen.

Needless to say, I wish that all of the money that companies are now hosing onto a variety of political candidates, causes, and decision-making bodies could be put back into the genie bottle. Perhaps our economic system will supply some of the answers to this concern, when customers walk away from politicized brands. And we "little people" should definitely push harder for disclosure and campaign finance reform.

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