In Creative Strategist, we’ve spoken multiple times about what constitutes “brand bravery,” citing numerous examples. One example that stirred a controversial debate in class was the situation involving Chick-Fil-A and its stance against gay marriage.
Before the debacle, it was known that the company was a “Christian, family-oriented” brand—it made that very clear by withholding chicken from its loving audience every Sunday. Then, on June 16, 2012, Chick-Fil-A president Dan Cathy made a statement coming out very strongly against our generation’s outlook on gay marriage. He stated, “I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.”
I’ll try to be objective here.
There is an extremely fine line separating the brave from the stupid, and as brands take more risks this line becomes increasingly blurred. For a brand to be “brave,” it must take risks—that much is for sure. However, I hold that in order for this risk to constitute “bravery,” it must be intentional and geared towards creating social change by sparking cultural discussion. Advertising is slowly emerging out of the smiling, white family stereotype, and brands that utilize minorities wholeheartedly (without simply throwing in a token black guy) are the brave few. Orbitz created an ad campaign that revolved entirely around the gay and lesbian community; it didn’t simply include a lesbian couple—it literally was about LGBT travel.
This is intentional and definitely was geared towards sparking cultural discussion regarding gay marriage. Orbitz willingly acts as a scapegoat for those who disagree with its stance. Now, I’m trying not to be biased here, but the way Chick-Fil-A approached gay marriage was much clumsier, nevermind being wholly offensive. Coming out against gay marriage is fine, but accusing an entire generation of being prideful and arrogant is probably not the best idea. Had they made an advertisement that supported heterosexual marriage, they would be included in the “brave” category in my book. Instead, Cathy came out swinging, generalizing the very people he’s trying to sell chicken to. Chick-Fil-A claims that sales went up after the statements and the debacle. The statements did bring up a cultural discussion, but it was not intentionally started. In other words, we’re laughing at you, not with you, Chick-Fil-A.