Chic-Fil-A Throws A Brand Strategy Curve Ball : But Will Consmers Come Out Swinging?

What an interesting dilemma the folks at Chic-Fil-A have put consumers in. They have publicly expressed a very polarizing point of view on social hot-topic: Gay Marriage.

In case you haven’t heard: they are not in the equal rights camp.

Rather, the CEO of the company has come out publicly on several occasions letting America know that they believe in the biblical definition of marriage…although they treat all of their employees and customers with the utmost respect.

The consumer anthropologist and the brand strategist in me are both equally fascinated by this scenario. As an observer and analyst of consumer culture, I am glued to the Facebook and twitter feeds and so curious to see how consumers react to this uncommon ground that has been stabbed to death by a company known for cutesy advertising using mischievous cows and also for being active members and supporters of the local communities where they operate. They are also known for not being open on Sundays because they are observing Christian traditions. All of these things being their previous public persona, they have been a strong presence in the fast food game and have remained an Icon in the Southern U.S., where they hail from.

The brand strategist in me is also intensely curious as to how their decision will play out in the court of “share of wallet”. Typically speaking, It is really important these days for a brand / company to have a point of view and a set of ideals that differentiates them and connects them to consumer’s hearts, minds and wallets. This means not just having a distinct personality and perspective on our human condition / their role in improving our lives, but also walking the walk. MOST Brands will find some sort of positive point of view to hang their hats on. In this case, Chic-Fil-A chose something decidedly negative and divisive. Such an atypical move for a mainstream brand.

What Chic-Fil-A has done is lay down a challenge to our American Ideals of free speech and free enterprise. It has also put consumers in a precarious position: forcing them to choose how important their convictions are to them when it comes to how they make purchase decisions. If you have checked your Facebook page lately you will notice a lot of action: lots of liberals talking about the conundrum of free speech and the fact that while they don’t agree with Chic-Fil-A’s point of view, they still don’t think it’s fair to deny them the right to do business (like they are trying to do in Chicago). Then there are those who are admitting they are closet patrons and feel bad about it, but can’t resist the MSG-filled tastiness of their favorite Chicken Sammiches. And of course there are those left-wingers who have sworn off the chain entirely to vote with their wallets in expressing their disagreement. Finally, there are those on the religious “right” side who are cheering on the fast food chain and encouraging others to “like” them. And I know more than a few people who have “unfriended” a few folks because of their unexpected fervor for fighting against gay marriage with chicken nuggets.

My opinion? I think everyone deserves a right to enter into a legally binding commitment to another human being. Will I eat at Chic-Fil-A again? No…but I avoid most fast food anyway because MSG makes me crazy. Do I think cities like Chicago should ban Chic-Fil-A from doing business: no. Let consumers decide if they want to support their business or not. The philosopher in me sides with the likes of Voltaire: whilst I disagree with the chicken-sandwich-giant’s point of view, I will fight for their right to express it. However, I will also be very vocal in discouraging anyone I care about from spending a penny at their restaurants.

And that’s the exciting part about this situation…a very unique one in our modern, liberal age. As brand strategists and consumer anthropologists we have been talking about the trend in consumer empowerment and how Brands must be fearless in staying true to who they are and expressing their ideals. But what happens when they express an unpopular opinion? Will they sink to the bottom of the performance pile or will apathy allow them to float by unscathed?

I suppose the numbers will tell…and i will be watching with an Eagle eye….


4 responses to “Chic-Fil-A Throws A Brand Strategy Curve Ball : But Will Consmers Come Out Swinging?

  1. Jamie, I agree. Everyone has the right to open his mouth and prove to the world that he is a jerk.

  2. I”m amazed at how so many media and writers have incorrectly reported that Chic-fil-A is behind the comments and “strategy” opposing same-sex marriage. What actually happened was that the company’s founder and CEO was quoted on his personal beliefs on the subject of same-sex marriage and he expressed his traditional views. Seems we all love controversy.

    • I do t think it’s a love of controversy as much as it is scrutiny of how individuals who run companies choose to express themselves in public forums. Certainly a controversial issues and consumers have the right to react however they choose to public statements from corporate officials: whether their intent was to speak on behalf of that corporation or not. It’s like art: the meaning is in the heart and mind of the observer. In this case, however, he did made a point to bring his role as the CEO of Chick-Fil-A into the context of his statement and in now way did he web allude to the notion that these were only his beliefs and do not reflect the company as a whole. An interesting choice to which I dot blame consumers for reacting. And it’s been interesting to watch the story unfold. As a brand strategist I am sure you are also observing this unique consumer reaction and taking notes. 😉

    • FYI, Alan…in the article located here, Cathy states (about Chick-Fil-A’s Business):
      “We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that.

      SO a bit in error to say he was talking about his position as an individual.
      Here is the link to the article in the Baptist Press for your reference:

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