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Brad VanAuken Branding: Just Ask...

Branding And Discrimination

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Brand Strategy Chick-fil-a

We regularly answer marketing questions here on Branding Strategy Insider. Today we hear from Karen, a Vice President of Global Marketing in Los Angeles, California who writes…

“Should brands support positions that discriminate against certain segments of society? Chick-Fil-A against Gay Marriage for example.”

This is a very interesting question Karen. I have said before that brands that stand for something, those that embrace certain values, will create greater emotional connection to those who share their values. Depending on what those values are and how offensive they might be to others, those values may also drive people who don’t share those values away.

Brands that take stands on issues that are important to specific market segments will increase the loyalty of people in those segments.

Brands are all about choices and very few, if any, brands appeal to all people.

For instance, Fox News will appeal to some people, while it will completely turn others off. The same goes for Air America. Some people will sing the praises of the Unitarian Universalist brand of religion, while others will steer completely clear of it.  Conversely, some people will find great meaning in the Southern Baptist church, while others will avoid it at all costs.

The more interesting question is, “Should brands that presumably were designed to appeal to all people or at least a broad cross-section of the public take stands that discriminate against certain segments of society?” If the brands are privately owned and run, it is their prerogative, although I am not sure how wise that is from a business perspective, as many would argue against it from a moral perspective. Certainly Chick-Fil-A and Boy Scouts of America (B.S.A.) have done just this.

They have made decisions based on the values of their leaders or at least a plurality of their members. People that do not agree with Chic-Fil-A can choose not to eat there and people who disagree with B.S.A. can choose not to interact with that organization. And public funding sources will not be available to either of those organizations.

A more fundamental question is, “Why would an organization take a strong stand on a controversial issue when it doesn’t have to? Couldn’t the organizational leaders believe what they want to believe but continue to serve the public in a way that attracts the greatest number of customers?”

Have their discriminatory positions hurt these two organizations and others that have taken similar stands? Certainly. Witness the decline of the B.S.A. in Boston and other largely progressive East and West Coast cities. I would argue that it has become an organization that appeals to a significantly more limited segment of society than when I was a youth. Is that a bad thing? It depends on with whom you talk. Many would say, “Of course it is a bad thing” while others would say, “No, it reinforces my values.” While current science would indicate that sexual orientation is not a choice, 44% of the US population view homosexuality as a sinful choice. So, it comes down to beliefs and values.  And depending on what you believe or value, brands that discriminate against certain segments of society may either completely turn you off or increase their cache with you.

As always, we welcome your view in the comment section below.

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4 Comments

Heather Randall on August 15th, 2012 said

The Chick-Fil-A controversy certainly brings an interesting aspect of corporate branding to the forefront.

You stated, “brands that stand for something, those that embrace certain values, will create greater emotional connection to those who share their values.” I believe they create a greater emotional connection to those who share their values AND those who do not. I’m certain there are many homosexual people who never heard of Chick-Fil-A before Dan Kathy made his statement. Clearly, for those who strongly believe in gay marriage, Dan Kathy’s statement generated strong emotional responses.

I haven’t researched how Chick-Fil-A, as a company, performed following Dan Kathy’s statement to the Biblical Recorder, but I’m betting their target audience, or customer base, grew as a result. I believe most of the company’s fast food establishments are located in areas where the general population (their customers) have the same beliefs / values as Dan Kathy.

Of course, here in California, Chick-Fil-A is less likely to find support for the company’s values, where there’s a much stronger population of people who support the right of gay people to be married. Chick-Fil-A operates a limited number of their locations in California, so the company pocketbook may not notice a difference in revenue.

My point is that if the brand publicly states their values, knowing their primary customer base is aligned with the company’s beliefs, doesn’t the statement reinforce the brand and ignite the customer base, generating more profit for the company? In that case, the statement is helpful to the company’s success.

Brent on August 15th, 2012 said

Interesting blog today, but a bit astray with characterizing Chik-Fil-A’s stance on gay marriage as “discrimination.”

Just to be clear, the chain does NOT discriminate against any person based on race, color, religion, or sexual orientation. No federal, state, or local discrimination laws have been violated as a result of its stance, and no violation has been alleged. Instead, they have been charged in the minds of some with being politically incorrect – and nothing more.

And while I may disagree with what the owners of the restaurant said, I will defend to my death their right to say it.

Brent
VP of Public Affairs for a national trade association in Washington DC

Sandy Fischler on August 16th, 2012 said

Personally, I think the owner of Chick-Fil-A did the chain a huge disservice by creating a divide such as the one that now exists. In the short-term they may win more customers who agree with their social stance, but the long-term demographics are not favorable to their position. It is almost a given that Same Sex Marriage will be legalized nationwide within the next 10 years, and the younger demographics (that would be the future customers of chains like CFA) are supporting the SSM cause.

I think it’s a mistake for a brand serving a larger audience to take a strong, unpopular stance on a social issue. Most everyone who knows of CFA knows that they are highly religious and close on Sundays out of respect. What they didn’t know was the extent of contributions made to groups who’s explicit purpose is to deny civil rights to citizens based on sexual preference. There’s a world of difference between opining your view on sexual mores and actively working to deny civil rights to people.

I think this turns out to be a loser for CFA in the long run. In 10 years all those people lined up outside CFA to support them will look the same way people holding up signs and opposing integration and interracial marriage 40 years ago look to us today. It’s not a place in the history books to be relished and it tarnishes the brand forever.

Brad VanAuken on August 21st, 2012 said

Brands that choose to take a position on issues that have strongly divided points of view will always lose some customers while (hopefully) building stronger emotional ties with the remaining customers. While I am not a prophet, I think it is a good bet that Chick-Fil-A president Dan Cathy’s stated position on same-sex marriage will limit that restaurant’s appeal to younger customers and to a broader audience as time goes on. I believe same sex marriage will become mainstream just as other civil rights initiatives have in the past. But Dan Cathy firmly believes what he has said and he is staying true to his values. Whether taking a public stand on the issue is good for business is debatable. Maybe in the short run. I doubt it in the medium to long run.

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