As for Chick-fil-A, its reputation took a hit on the YouGov BrandIndex, which tracks consumer sentiment on 1,100 brands on a daily basis.
Before Cathy’s statements, it ranked high with consumers. As the controversy expanded, the company’s brand health has deteriorated.
In turn, that is likely to affect sales, says BrandIndex managing director Ted Marzilli.
“Some consumers might be very supportive of the brand or (Cathy’s) position, but when we look at overall consumers ... this is going to have an impact,” he says.
Gay marriage is a “political hot potato,” he says, and executives “should be careful about dipping into the political waters.”
J.C. Penney felt backlash when it hired openly gay Ellen DeGeneres as its spokeswoman early this year.
But despite criticism from conservative activist groups, the retailer stood by its decision and took it a step further by featuring same-sex parents in its promotions.
“J.C. Penney really showed us a turning point,” says Michael Wilke, senior U.S.consultant for gay marketing firm Out Now. “Not only did they stand squarely behind (DeGeneres) in a public way, but then they took the unprecedented step of coming out with those Mother’s Day and Father’s Day same-sex ads that they put in their catalogs.”
Adding more pressure to the corporate office is this reality: Any executive statement or action that is remotely controversial can spread to millions in seconds via social media.
“Everything is connected and everyone sees everything,” says Adamson. “In today’s media landscape, there is a magnifying glass. Anything you say or do is prime time.”
Even before the Cathy controversy, Chick-fil-A saw how negative news could quickly disseminate.
Chick-fil-A — which has used the ad slogan “Eat Mor Chikin” since 1995 — tried to stop a small business owner’s trademark application for “Eat More Kale,” a catchphrase he had printed on shirts and stickers since 2001.
Thousands rallied to support that owner, Bo Muller-Moore, after word spread via social media streams.
For its part, Chick-fil-A is using social media to get its messages out as well. It didn’t directly address the company stance on gay marriage, but last week it let its Facebook fans know that they are going to try to step out of the spotlight on the issue.
“Going forward, our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena,” it said.
(Laura Petrecca writes for USA Today.)
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