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Barilla's LGBT remarks boil over on social media

Posting in Energy

The controversy resulting from Barilla's comments against featuring LGBT families in its ads have inspired Internet memes

Social media was boiling over comments made by Barilla chairman Guido Barilla today. LGBT people and supporters vowed to boycott; its competitors pounced.

Guido Barilla told an Italian radio host that LGBT people could "eat another brand of pasta" if they were upset by the company's refusal to feature homosexual families in its advertisements. Word about those remarks spread rapidly on Facebook and Twitter, compelling Barilla to issue an apology to simmer down any boycott.

Here are the words that have fueled the controversy: "For us, the 'sacral family' remains one of the company's core values. Our family is a traditional family. If gays like our pasta and our advertisings, they will eat our pasta; if they don't like that, they will eat someone else's pasta. You can't always please everyone not to displease anyone. I would not do a commercial with a homosexual family, not for lack of respect toward homosexuals - who have the right to do whatever they want without disturbing others - but because I don't agree with them, and I think we want to talk to traditional families. The women are crucial in this," Huffington Post wrote in its translation. Barilla said he "respected" same-sex marriage but opposed adoptions.

A call to boycott the pasta maker

It didn't take long for news stories to crop up throughout the media. Those stories were shared on social media, which prompted calls for a boycott of Barilla products. Guido Barilla subsequently took to Twitter saying, "I apologize very much for having offended the sensibilities of many. I have the deepest respect for all the people without distinction." That did not quell the controversy and led to even more articles.

"Guido Barilla's comments were the perfect recipe for a social media crisis. In a world where news no longer breaks, it Tweets, Barilla had no chance to stop the wrath it deserved on social media.The company had remained silent for far too long in a real time world but at least Barilla issued an apology on its primary accounts around the world. Certainly boycotts are inevitable. Now the company must wait to see just how much this debacle impacts its business," said Brian Solis an author and principal analyst with Altimeter Group.

"There are interesting precedents here as well. Chick-fil-A's Dan Cathy was very public against gay marriage in 2012. Boycotts were waged but others called for a Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day. Reports show that business netted positive for them over time. Amazon's Jeff Bezos also contributed significant donations in Washington to help legalize gay marriage and was met with threats of a boycott to no avail," Solis added.

Chick-fil-A took the opposite tact when its CEO doubled down on statements opposing marriage equality and the company's support of groups that attempt to "convert" gay teens. A conservative counter backlash led to record sales. Barilla's competitors are the ones seizing on backlash this time. Ronzoni tweeted, "Like pasta, we believe that families come in all different shapes, sizes, colors and orientations. Our pasta is for all."

I'm still seeing my social media "friends" posting about it, and some have expressed that the apology wasn't enough. Grassroots LGBT activists are encouraging consumers to contact the company. Others are taking it all more lightly, saying, "Gays shouldn't boycott Barilla because they are homophobic, gays should boycott because pasta is a carb!" Feelings vary but at least one thing is clear: brands should consider the far reaching impact of social media.

Is an apology good for Barilla's business?

(image credits: Facebook)

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— By on September 26, 2013, 8:59 AM PST

David Worthington

Contributing Editor

David Worthington has written for BetaNews, eWeek, PC World, Technologizer and ZDNet. Formerly, he was a senior editor at SD Times. He holds a business degree from Temple University. He is based in New York. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure