Shut Up and Sell: Mixing Business and Politics Is Unfair to Consumers

Popular fast-food chain Chick-fil-A has sworn off politics. That’s the promise from the company after Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy, son of the company’s founder S. Truett Cathy, spoke openly against homosexuality, warning that it was “inviting God’s judgment upon our nation.”

Chick-fil-A has always been open in its support for traditional Christian values. None of the chain’s stores is open on Sundays, since that is a day when they encourage employees to go to church. In a recent interview, Cathy affirmed the company’s support for the traditional family:

“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.”

But the backlash against Cathy’s statement on same-sex relationships was swift, with homosexual activists and liberals of all stripes calling the company “Hate-Mongers” and promising to take their business elsewhere. Countering this was a wave of support from conservative groups; but Chick-fil-A wants to sell its product to everyone, both liberals and conservatives.

Today, the company has announced its intent to abandon its conservative political statements and return to cooking chicken. A statement on its Facebook page reads:

The Chick-fil-A culture and service tradition in our restaurants is to treat every person with honor, dignity and respect – regardless of their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender. We will continue this tradition in the over 1,600 Restaurants run by independent Owner/Operators. Going forward, our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena.

Chick-fil-A is a family-owned and family-led company serving the communities in which it operates. From the day Truett Cathy started the company, he began applying biblically-based principles to managing his business. For example, we believe that closing on Sundays, operating debt-free and devoting a percentage of our profits back to our communities are what make us a stronger company and Chick-fil-A family.

Our mission is simple: to serve great food, provide genuine hospitality and have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A.

So Chick-fil-A has recognized that both liberals and conservatives eat chicken; and since its mission is to sell chicken, the company has decided to leave the political realm and focus on what it does best.

That’s a marketing direction which other companies would do well to consider. Corporations which embrace a particular political issue (such as abortion or same-sex marriage) and which allocate a share of their profits in support of that position—whether liberal or conservative—risk alienating customers who do not share that viewpoint. If customers feel strongly, they may prefer to take their business elsewhere—knowing that two cents of each dollar they spend will be used for a project which they personally oppose.

New J.C. Penney CEO Ron Johnson, who joined the company in November 2011 following a successful career at Apple, could learn from the Chick-fil-A experience. The company’s website says that “… J. C. Penney Company, Inc. (NYSE: JCP) is re-imagining every aspect of its business in order to reclaim its birthright and become America’s favorite store…”

Under Johnson’s leadership, J.C. Penney launched an aggressive national campaign to promote “gay” marriage. In February 2012, Valentine’s Day sales circulars featured same-sex couples as well as heterosexual couples. The Mother’s Day circular included several lesbian “two-mommy” families; and on Father’s Day, homosexual men were included in the catalog.

In response to Penney’s marketing campaign, conservative organizations including the American Family Association and OneMillionMoms rallied their members to boycott the store. And the crusade has borne fruit: Since February 2012, the company’s stock has lost more than half its value, from $41.32 a share in February to only $20.02 per share today. Standard & Poor’s Ratings Service has lowered its credit rating on J.C. Penney to “junk” status.

The American Family Association reports on its website:

First-year CEO Ron Johnson’s decisions have led to disastrous results for the company. Rather than build on the faith-based traditions of founder James Cash Penney, Johnson has abandoned family values and taken the company into a financial tailspin by embracing social activism.


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