It’s barely been a month since every frat bro’s favorite pasta maker Barilla suffered a whole lot of bad publicity when its CEO decided to let an Italian radio host know that the company would “never” feature gay people or their families in its ads. This boneheaded move not only led to lots of negative headlines—it also gave competitors like Bertolli and Ronzoni a great opportunity to set themselves apart.
At first, Guido Barilla went out of his way to clarify how few craps he gave about the issue, saying “if the gays do not agree, they can always eat pasta from another manufacturer.”
It was a little shocking how little he knew about the company bearing his name. As one helpful commenter pointed out, Barilla hired the openly gay chef Ted Allen for an American PR campaign several years ago while his show Queer Eye for the Straight Guy was still on the air.
At any rate, Guido seems to have received the message six weeks later:
On Monday the company announced its plans to create a series of “more inclusive” ads to undo the damage done. To its credit, Barilla has held “at least eight” meetings with gay rights groups in both Italia and the Stati Uniti, and its spokesperson went further in an interview with Reuters, saying:
“Italy is a very insular country, and in cities like Parma it’s even more so. The meetings have helped open our eyes and ears to the evolution taking place in the world outside Parma.”
Yeah, alright. The company also introduced a “new leadership initiative” which includes participation in the Human Rights Campaign‘s Corporate Equality Index, the creation of an internal “diversity and inclusion board”, the appointment of a “Chief Diversity Officer” (uhhh), and a new series of ads.
One gay rights activist said that the whole thing reeks of “window dressing”. While we see his point, we have to say the company was right to do something, even if its primary motivation was fear of losing business in its second-largest market, where gay people don’t like to be insulted for some weird reason.
We have no idea what the new “inclusive” ads will look like, but we have a free hint for the creatives behind them: don’t be too heavy-handed about how diverse you are or pull a “we heard you, and we’re so sorry” a la J.C. Penney. It’s really annoying.