There's an age old question which asks "why did the chicken cross the road?" Over the past month, stockholders of fast food chain have probably been more interested in finding out "why did the chicken executive open his mouth?" Since his July 2012 comments in opposition to same-sex marriages, Chick-fil-A President and CEO Dan Cathy has choosing to publicly air their political views.
I think that I'm like most folks in that I have no interest in the political musings of the individuals who run businesses that I choose to patronize. On one hand, I'm not going to go out of my way to buy from a business that happens to espouse views that are aligned with my own. However, if a business I frequent chooses to enter the fray and vocally advocate for a perspective that I find to be wrong, I'm am going to be less likely to remain as a customer.
This phenomenon is what Dan Cathy and Chick-fil-A have been experiencing over the past several weeks. Had Cathy actually done even a little bit of homework before clucking about his firm's opposition to same-sex unions, he might have remained silent. Since his remarks, Chick-fil-A's overall brand perception/approval rating - as measured by independent marketing firm YouGov's "Brand Index" - has plummeted by nearly 30 rating points.
Today's Chick-fil-A controversy is merely the most recent example of a business leader alienating his or her customer base by wading into public policy debates. It's important to note that prior instances clearly demonstrate that consumer backlash to CEO politicking has occurred regardless of which side of a particular issue that person ended up supporting. For instance:
- In February, both Starbuck's and Nike Shoes faced an uproar from some conservative Christians after the companies formally endorsed same-sex marriage legislation then under consideration by the Washington legislature.
- During the late 1980's, Domino's Pizza ran into trouble with feminist groups and others, after then-CEO and Founder Tom Monoghan began making regular public statements in opposition to abortion.
- In June of this year, General Mills CEO Ken Powell's statement in opposition to a proposed Minnesota constitutional amendment banning same-sex unions was regarded as a declaration of war on marriage by numerous conservatives and their advocacy groups.
- In 2009, at the height of the national debate regarding President Barack Obama's healthcare reform legislation, CEO of Whole Foods John Mackey got into trouble with his generally socially-conscious customer base after writing an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal in opposition to the Affordable Care Act.
In each of these instances, as well as a host of others, company executives saw almost immediately that these incursions into the realm of politics unnecessarily alienated customers and tarnished the brand images of the products or services of their respective firms. Of late, Chick-fil-A has recognized this, and formally stated that the company will avoid politics from now on. Rightly so, I guess Dan Cathy doesn't want to lay another egg.