Chick-Fil-A Comments Put Brand in Jeopardy

Chick-Fil-A president Dan Cathy has discovered what some business owners already know, that what you say and do may have an impact on your brand not only in positive but also in negative ways. Cathy’s recent comments on gay marriage have landed his business in the middle of a contentious debate. The situation can be a cautionary tale for other business owners contemplating stands on controversial issues:

A Poor Choice of Words

Playing chicken with public opinion. Cathy’s comments about supporting the “biblical definition of the family unit” have angered gay rights activists, some customers, some political leaders and, yes, even the Muppets. Of course, business owners, like everyone else, have the right to free speech, but exercising this freedom may affect your business. CBS News

Having your waffle fries and eating them too. After Cathy’s remarks to a religious news site and over the radio angered customers and political leaders, some of whom are now threatening to block the company’s expansion plans, Chick-Fil-A is trying to disengage from the debate. But the question is whether or not it’s too late. The Los Angeles Times

The Seeds of Discontent

Brand runs afoul with customers too. Lest anyone think activists, political leaders, and business partners were the only ones offended by Cathy’s remarks, a marketing research company says the Chick-Fil-A brand has taken a hit with American consumers too, since Cathy’s remarks became public. YouGov

Trouble in the hen house. What’s worse, the Chick-Fil-A controversy has even encouraged a bit of brand co-opting. Witness YouTube chef and comedian Hilah Johnson’s creation, the Chick-Fil-Gay, a do-it-yourself home version of the chicken franchise’s popular sandwich, made for home consumption to show opposition against the company’s stand. The Stir

The Eye of the Storm

Chick-Fil-A appreciation day. Meanwhile, not everyone is on Cathy’s back, and some leaders are even urging support for the values he espoused during two controversial interviews that have angered some and energized others to defend the company. Former U.S. Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee is advocating support for Cathy’s remarks and his business in a nationwide show of solidarity Wednesday. Facebook

Don’t mix business with religion. Of course, franchise expert Joel Libava points out in a recent post that the Chick-Fil-A president’s real mistake was not simply espousing a politically incorrect opinion. It’s that he made the mistake of mixing business with religion. Some say it’s unwise to discuss politics or religion with others. Maybe business owners should take the hint, too. The Franchise King

Amazon chief wades into debate. While controversy over Chick-Fil-A’s stand on gay marriage still rages, another business leader, Jeff Bezos, CEO at Amazon, has donated $2.5 million in support of a same-sex marriage referendum in Washington state. Some will question whether his stand also invites criticism from those on the other side of the debate. The Washington Post

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30 Reactions
  1. Interesting thoughts! I have often thought over the last few days that CFA wants to “have its cake and eat it too” – they want to keep the squeaky clean, family friendly image AND keep making money hand over fist (except on Sundays of course). It’s been fascinating to watch, and sad (to me) to see the divisiveness among people in response.

  2. The world Is so full of hypocrisy. The same people demanding tolerance and acceptance for their lifestyle are the very ones displaying intolerance and un-acceptance (if there is such a word) towards contrary views and beliefs. Sad.

  3. I’m always amazed by the fact that some business leaders still insist on mixing religion with business.

    It’s bad enough when politicians do it.

    If you’re proud of your religion…your religious beliefs, great.

    But they’re YOURS.

    You don’t need to broadcast them to the masses. Look what happens.

    It’s a lousy business strategy.

    The Franchise King®

    • So, when asked what he believes he’s suppose to keep his mouth shut or lie?

      Whatever happened to “I may disagree with what you believe, but I respect your right to believe what you want.”

      Seems like we are in the process of redefining respect to mean “agree with me or shut up”.

      • Hi Leona,

        That’s a good point about the chilling effects of stating your beliefs. Social media and the Web have done wonderful things … but they can lead to a mob mentality, too.

        – Anita

  4. I absolutely agree with Joel. Your beliefs are your own, keep them that way.

    Sadly though, I think mixing business and religion can be a marketing strategy. If your target market is people with strong religious views of one kind or another, what better way to get publicity then to state categorically your views on gay rights.

    And as they say, any publicity is good publicity.

    • Thanks, Tomas.

      If I had a bible-selling business, I would market it differently than if I had a food franchise.

      My bible-selling business would target potential bible-buyers.

      No one would be offended, me thinks.


  5. 1. People who do not know Jesus as their Lord, Savior, and King often confuse faith and religion; they are extremely unique with few areas of compatibility.

    2. There was no poor choice of words by Dan Cathy.

    Jesus clearly stated that anyone who denies Him denies the Father.

    Family values do matter; and I’m proud Dan Cathy had the courage to stand up for family values.

    3. There are other business stewards out there who are completely unashamed of their Faith in Jesus as Lord, Savior, and King. – all of our customers know where we stand in relation to Jesus — on our knees before Him.

    While we have lost customers over our public expression of Faith; we’ve also gained customers who appreciate our stance.

    4. Chick-Fil-A does not discriminate in their employment practices.

    5. Chick-Fil-A has a lot of people who are happy to be their customer on a regular basis because of their long time stance on family values.

    Since they publicly make their values known in every community for which they have a store, people who eat there learned nothing new when Dan Cathy spoke up recently… as it has been said before again and again.

    Thank you.

  6. Interesting debate going on here. It’s a microcosm of the debate taking place all over the Web. As it turns out, our Small Business News Editor (who, by the way, is not me) has spurred a lot of discussion by being critical from a business perspective.

    As some of the comments here point out, as well as the following article, controversy and debate aren’t necessarily bad — depending on your point of view, they are very good opportunities to raise how you feel and the values that are important to you:

  7. Some (not necessarily ALL) – of the McDonalds supports Chick Fil A signs have been found to be edited photo frauds. Not making any commentary except that it is wise to beware to make sure the information you are getting and sharing forward is accurate. Here’s the link:

  8. Joel, I’m pretty much betting Cathy isn’t worried a lot about what any of us think. It is his belief. It is his company. He has a right to think and feel that way. People have a right not to shop at his store. I wish I had one nearby to shop in.

    As for Bezos, I think its interesting his pandering contribution has been well covered. I disagree with his position. Rather than throw up an internet meme and get the blogosphere all fired up about it, I made an easy choice.

    I put away my Kindle and I bought my new books from Barnes and Noble. Given the opportunity to choose between Amazon and some other company–some other company will win.

    A wise friend of mine established his “no a**holes, no idiots” rule. Simply put, I don’t have to work with people who are either one.

    Perhaps having a little backbone and character is something that has gone missing by way of chasing the almighty dollar. Perhaps we Americans still appreciate someone who stands behind what they say.

    Or not.

  9. Let me assure you that, when you truly know Jesus personally, you can’t keep from speaking of Him and you can’t compartmentalize your relationship with Him. You can’t put Him in a box and bring him out only when you want to or when homosexuals or money driven businessmen won’t be offended. Anyone who thinks you can is a fool and doesn’t understand who God is. God doesn’t call us to be “undercover” Christians. He calls us to “follow Him” and that means all the way to death if needed. Call it radical if you want but men die for lesser things such as fame, money and title’s on a daily basis. Trust me, if Dan died today, God isn’t going to say “hey…did you bring me a chicken sandwich?” He is going to say “Well done my good and faithful servant.” The Bible says that every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. That means everyone on the face of the earth including all of us in this post. Let’s go ahead and start now!! More of God and less of ourselves is the key to turning this country around and stimulating our economy.

  10. Freedom of expression is the right of every human, though before giving any statement this should be kept in mind that no one’s religious beliefs are disturbed. Else every one is free to speak whatever he/she want to.

  11. Chick-Fil-A or Chick-Fil-Gay, can’t we all just get along?

  12. Many of you seem well informed on most things other than what the Bible actually says. For hundreds of years we have allowed leaders in the various Christian religions interpret the Bible as they see fit. Here is a rather well educated interpretation that most of you probably will not watch in the entirety.

  13. Well now, several days after this article on the doom of CFA, I think the fast food chain is doing fine!
    To the article writer: do you still think CFA “runs afoul with it’s customers? Haha! Yesterday, hundreds of thousands of customers came to the stores to give their support. Your reporting of CFA’ s death was premature!

    • Hi Gary,

      I don’t think my Editors were predicting CFA’s death — just reporting on the controversy. 🙂

      I do think that the comment put the brand in some jeopardy with some people (i.e., the people who don’t agree with Cathy’s comment). But as yesterday’s overwhelming outpouring of support for Chick-Fil-A showed, with other people it not only did not hurt, but in fact spurred admiration for the CEO taking a stand on an issue they believe strongly in. But then not every brand will appeal to every person, and in an unexpected way this situation proves that.

      – Anita

  14. I think that most people are not offended at what Mr. Cathy has said. It is his right to state what his religious beliefs are. No one is taking that away from him. There may be some people who are offended enough at what he said that they will take their business elsewhere. Although I do not personally agree with his views, I can respect his right to state his opinion.

    I think the majority of people are offended that he is taking his business profits and donating them to groups who fight for same sex rights, including marriage. As one person stated, he has freedom of speech, he doesn’t have freedom from consequences. If people choose not to support groups who fight same sex rights, then they will choose not to support his company.

    The third thing I want to state is that by his words he has tarnished the reputation of his brand everywhere for people who do not agree with what he said and more so with what he does. He has hurt a lot of people who individually own and operate this chain who may not even agree with anything he says. You can make the arguement that if you picked this chain to operator you should have done your homework and agreed with the “vision” of its leaders, however sometimes it just makes /business/ sense to open a chain even if you do not agree with its leaders’ personal beliefs.

    I can almost see a few lawsuits coming his way for associating his personal views with his brand.

    If the owner of Burger King came out and all of a sudden stated his support for atheism and that part of the proceeds from Burger King profits are used to fund abortions, I am pretty sure a very similar reaction would occur.

    This has nothing to do with religion and more to do with mixing personal beliefs and business. No one would care if he used his own money to donate to these anti-same-sex groups – but he is using his business.

    • correction above – I think the majority of people are offended that he is taking his business profits and donating them to groups who fight *against* same sex rights, including marriage.

    • Hi Vas,

      As I have stated many times, mixing business with religion is unwise.

      I think you’ll find that 99.3% of the operators are in sync with Cathy’s religious views. That’s because;

      A. Cathy won’t allow people who don’t share his Christian values in as operators

      B. No one in their right mind would invest their money into a franchise that is so in your face about their religious beliefs and the fact that they make you close on Sundays etc.

      Lawsuits coming? Maybe.

      More digging around from reporters. You bet.

      The Franchise King®

  15. @Joel: yes, I guess I was not arguing for or against anything in the article, just making general comments to some of the replies to it (my 2 coppers). Honestly, this has been blown way out of proportion, mostly because extremists on either side of the debate have thrown their weight into the cause, and he and the franchise are now associated with that element.

  16. @ Joel Libava in reference to:
    “Hi Vas,
    As I have stated many times, mixing business with religion is unwise.”

    If mixing business with religion is unwise, does this mean that business owners should ideally be non-religious? I’m assuming that you mean that I should keep my religious views seperate from my business strategy correct? In other words, don’t “come out”. Whatever my religious beliefs, I should let that be the little thing that I do at home or in the closet or at church or at the group meeting or anywhere but when operating business. Joel, for you to carry the title of Franchise King, I have to admit that I’m dissapointed. What you have said is that if you were in a similar situation…being a man with a title conveying a level of expertise or experience such as “Franchise King”….and were asked a similar question in public where the world could see and hear, you would take the road most traveled and be silent, deny your belief or avoid the opportunity of a lifetime to be a leader, advocate and ambassador for the one thing that matters more than anything else on the face of the earth. And keep in mind that this applies to you no matter what your belief is. It could be UFO’s and worship of a planet of apes but the fact is that everyone will have a time in their life where they are backed into a corner, squeezed in a vice….and what comes out of their mouth and crosses their lips will be words of truth from their convictions, or a cowardly silence. So my questions for you are these: What are your beliefs/moral convictions on the subject of marriage. Who/what do you worship? How do you seperate business from religion and still have skin in the game with your beliefs?

    • Joseph,

      I don’t find it difficult to separate business and religion, at all.

      It’s really easy; I don’t include it in my mission statement, and if I had employees, the word “religion” wouldn’t even be included in an employee manual. If I was a franchisor, I would never force…er… “suggest,” that potential franchisees worship in their “churches” on Sunday- and follow “Christian” principles.

      If you and I met at a networking event, and you asked me about my beliefs, I may or may not choose to share them with you.

      You see, your religious views…the way you practice your religion etc, are none of my business. And they don’t belong in a business conversation.

      Unless of course, you happen to own a store that sells Bibles and religious memorabilia.

      Not in MY Kingdom, anyway.

      The Franchise King®

    • Really well stated. I’m curious, why is it considered unwise to mix religion and business? Because it might interfer with how much money the business makes? That would mean that the dollar is more important than the religious beliefs. What has that gotten us? Enron? Arthur Anderson Accounting? $700 billion bailout and most of that money lost or untracable? etc… all for the sake of “worship at the altar of more money”. If someone is willing to make their religious or other beliefs known more power to them. At least those doing business with them are aware and can make a conscious choice. I don’t like one of the local chains selling soft porn on their website – now I can choose whether or not to spend my dollars there. I may or may not agree with Dan Cathy – and now I can choose whether or not to spend my dollars there. Taking a stand means the buyer has the power of choice to support or not. What’s wrong with that?