Boycotts and Barilla – Victory?

Last week, when I wrote about Barilla and Nico’s diet, I said that what I really wanted as a fulsome apology and a vow to do better, rather than Barilla’s non-apology apology (where he lurched from anti-homosexual rhetoric to sexism).

It seems we have one.

Here’s the video in English. It has an acknowledgment of the offense and a plan for action going forward.

 Frankly, I’m going to call this a win.
Skeptics will say that he’s just had this written for him by PR flacks and is saying it to avoid losing more sales. But isn’t that the point of a boycott? To show that there are consequences for offensive speech. As a smart gay friend of mine puts it – the goal isn’t to destroy the company but to send a message. This second apology suggests the message was sent.

The Facebook comments are interesting. In both English and Italian, you see people still offended and refusing to buy Barilla products anyway. You also see bigots who are offended that Barilla apologized and who are now threatening to boycott Barilla as a result of insufficient bigotry. I have nothing to say to the latter. To the former, though, while it’s their right not to buy Barilla, I think it’s misguided to try and continue the boycott. It’s vital to let people have an out and to try to do better next time. Will he? Well, we’ll see.

When the boycott started, lots of people cited Chik-Fil-A and its failure.  But eating fast food is what Americans do best, so it’s not surprising that conservative Americans, who number in the millions, rallied around the chicken flag. While Barilla isn’t a luxury brand, it is European and it is emphasizing cooking in the home – not what Americans do best. I have no data, but I bet Barilla is very much an urban/sub-urban product, and not a rural product. Hence, their market is going to skew left in this country. Moreover, they have to worry about Europe.

The English language reporting has focused on America, naturally, but one of the great consequences of this story was the anger within Italy, where Barilla owns 50% of the dried pasta market! Italy is an increasingly tolerant country in terms of sexuality (they have plenty of other demons).

Finally, it’s worth thinking about the power of the internet in recent movements in which I’ve been involved. The Justice for Ethan campaign may not have gotten the investigation they/we want, not yet anyway, but it did force the Governor to act, to take a public position, and perhaps some good will come from it. That only came because it “caught” on the internet. Similarly, Barilla. In the past, if a chairman made an offensive comment on local radio, it’s possible a campaign might have developed – but not globally, and not with such overwhelming power in just a few days.

This is what winning looks like: An apology, some humility, a chance for real dialogue. Also, and some of the parents who read this page will know how grateful I am … my son Nico can keep eating the noodles he likes. Whew.

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