Chick-fil-A Shows That Radical Transparency In Marketing Sometimes Isn’t Pretty

The news this week that Chick-fil-A’s President spoke out against gay marriage has once again ignited passions among both its supporters and its detractors. All you have to do is a quick Google news, Facebook or Twitter search for “Chick-fil-A” and you’ll see plenty of stories and opinions surrounding the controversy.

Marketing people aren’t immune from weighing in with their personal beliefs. Not to pick on a very respected ad pro, but he started a pretty heated Facebook thread with his opinion:

I’ve said it before, (more than once, actually) and I’ll say it again:

All the marketing gurus who preach “radical transparency” for brands, pay attention. Because controversies like Chick-fil-A’s can be the result.

Brands (and by extension their owners) may have belief systems and values that clash with what their customers believe. And those customers will make subjective, arbitrary, emotional decisions about whether to support or not support those brands. Even brand beliefs or statements that use squishy words like “empowerment” or “love” can come with a flip side that’s divisive.

I grew up in Atlanta, where Chick-fil-A was founded and where the Cathy family’s beliefs have been well-known in the community for years. I don’t agree with what they believe. But I still eat their sandwiches (when I can, that is, as I’m now 1000 miles away from the nearest Chick-fil-A.) That internal conflict clouds my thinking, and I suspect it does for many customers. This isn’t a clear-cut issue.

The point is, most marketers don’t want this kind of attention, or controversy. That’s why corporations can go to great lengths to hide what politicians and causes they support. Chick-fil-A, a private company, isn’t hiding its beliefs. And they’re willing to put up with the consequences of publicizing those beliefs.

If consumers decide to boycott Chick-fil-A, why would they stop there? Take a look at this chart from ThinkProgress:

If consumers are willing to say “I won’t eat Chick-fil-A again” because that brand’s in the news this week, does that mean they’re willing to change where they go to the movies or how they wipe their asses? Not necessarily. Like I said, it’s selective. But most brands, unlike Chick-fil-A, don’t want the attention, or controversy, that transparency brings.

So preach “radical transparency” if you want, but in most cases, brands and their owners won’t take you up on it.

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About Dan Goldgeier

Dan Goldgeier is a Seattle-based freelance copywriter with experience at advertising agencies across the U.S. He is a graduate of the Creative Circus ad school, and currently teaches at Seattle's School of Visual Concepts. Dan is also a columnist for TalentZoo.com and the author of View From The Cheap Seats and Killer Executions and Scrubbed Decks.