PR Fail: Barilla Chairman Says He Will ‘Never’ Include Gays in Ads

Here’s a case of foot-in-mouth disease followed by a quick but debatably effective damage control operation. Yesterday Guido Barilla, chairman of the pasta company that bears his name, told an Italian radio show that his brand will “never” feature gay men or women in its ads and that “if the gays do not agree, they can always eat pasta from another manufacturer.”

Here’s his reasoning at work:

I would never do (a commercial) with a homosexual family, not for lack of respect but because we don’t agree with them. Ours is a classic family where the woman plays a fundamental role…if the gays do not agree, they can always eat pasta from another manufacturer.

A woman’s place is in the kitchen and gays can never be part of a real family? He went homophobic and misogynistic while mentioning respect in the midst of a thoroughly disrespectful comment and encouraging a significant portion of the population to abandon his brand. That’s what we call “the keep digging strategy.”

The company’s Facebook page has already filled up with complaints from angry customers announcing their decision to boycott the world’s largest pasta producer. To Barilla’s credit, its team quickly realized that they had a problem on their hands and released a response. But was it good enough?

Here’s the statement:

I apologize if my words have generated controversy or misunderstanding, and if they have offended the sensibilities of some people.

For clarity, I wish to point out that I have the deepest respect for all persons, without distinction of any kind.

I have the utmost respect for homosexuals and freedom of expression to anyone.

Barilla in its advertising has always chosen to represent the family because this is the symbol of hospitality and affection for everyone.

Interestingly, the brand only released the statement in Italian on its main social media accounts. No English-language word from its American division. While this was a quick apology, it wasn’t particularly effective. The implication that gays cannot be part of Barilla’s definition of “family” reveals the same disrespect and cluelessness that got Guido in trouble in the first place. No one’s forcing the guy to cater to the LGBT community, but what kind of response did he expect? There was no misunderstanding.

Unlike Chick-fil-A, Barilla is not a regional company. It has customers around the world, and millions of them just happen to be gay. We’ve said it before: an insincere face-saving apology may be worse than saying nothing at all.

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