There’s an important connection between advertising and social justice. Between buying power and social power.
The economic structure we’ve created espouses that the ‘market is always right.’ Whether you agree with that sentiment or not, the idea has important implications for social action.
When I was in grad school, one of my professors speculated that mainstream acceptance of gay people and families would be driven by marketers.
Essentially, he argued, marketers couldn’t afford to ignore this population.
On average, gay couples have more disposable income than straight couples. Ironically, this is because homophobic sentiments around adoption by gay families leads to gay couples having more buying power. And, in a capitalist economy, buying power is an important form of power.
Just as politicians need to cater to senior citizens, marketers need to cater to gay couples. Not to mention all the folks who aren’t homophobes, of which there are many.
If you imagine companies as driven by nothing but profits, with no thought to morals (I know, hard to imagine, right?), then the calculation would go something like this:
If you appeal to gay consumers by featuring openly-gay people in your ads, then you risk alienating the homophobes. If you show only straight people in the your advertisements, then at best you miss tapping into this lucrative market and at worst you alienate everyone else.
The last few years we’ve been in a transition time. Some companies are boldly coming out as pro-gay, while others are playing it safe and hoping no one notices. But it’s getting harder and hard for companies not to take a stand on this issue.
And then, every once and awhile, a company totally implodes.
Like this week when Barilla chairman Guido Barilla, was asked in an Italian radio interview if he would consider using gay families in ads.
He said he would not.
“…But not out of a lack of respect for homosexuals who have the right to do what they want without bothering others … [but] I don’t see things like they do and I think the family that we speak to is a classic family.”
Oh, crash and burn.
And believe it or not, his interview went downhill from there as Barilla expressed his views against adoption by gay parents, and told gays they could eat another pasta. And I’m pretty sure he didn’t realize he was being offensive.
Even his apologies are offensive. First he tried to clarify his remarks, saying he “simply wanted to highlight the central role of the woman in the family.”
Then, he tried apologizing further saying that he has “the utmost respect for homosexuals and…marriages between people of the same sex.” He maybe should have stopped there because he then added, “Barilla in its advertising has always chosen to represent the family because this is the symbol of hospitality and affection for everyone.”
So. A woman’s place is in the home (cooking pasta, I guess). Families with gay people aren’t real families (or aren’t hospitable?). And frankly I’m not clear on how he feels about gay women.
Basically it’s time to stop buying Barilla.
Barilla is a major company. It has half the Italian pasta market and a quarter of the U.S. market. This blunder and subsequent boycott has the potential to do major damage to their market share.
And I assure you other companies are watching.
Other companies breath a sigh of relief every time they’re not asked how they feel about gay people. But they know the day is coming when either they’ll have to diversify the people they present or they’ll find themselves in the position Barilla is in today.
And they’re hoping Barilla gets away with it, so that they can be homophobic too.
Update: Rival Bertoni responds with this ad. Boom.