If you don’t live under a rock, then you’ve likely heard about the recent controversy surrounding Chick-fil-A. After admitting to being for “the biblical definition of the family unit” in an interview with Baptist Press
, Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy led his popular chain restaurant through a barrage of criticisms.
Two incidents occurred after the criticism—one, the Jim Henson Company pulled its Muppets toys from the restaurant’s kid’s meals in protest, after which Chick-fil-A covered it all up by stating that the cancellation was a recall of unsafe toys. Then it was reported online that Chick-fil-A may have been behind the creation of a Facebook account of a fake teenager, who stood by the chain while Facebook users posted angry and critical comments on Chick-fil-A’s page. It’s still unclear whether the fake account was really created by Chick-fil-A, though the company has denied the allegation. Notwithstanding, no matter on what end of the political spectrum you fall, there’s much to be learned from Chick-fil-A’s marketing mistakes. Here are a few lessons:
- Never, ever try to cover up anything.
At some point in the distant past, it did pay to cover up a mistake or failure. Now, the media finds out everything, and if they don’t, the general public will out you. Instead of covering up the fact that the Muppet toys were pulled because the Jim Henson Company felt Chick-fil-A was at odds with their values, Chick-fil-A should have owned up and explained why—on their website and in a press release.*
- Stand by your beliefs.
Whether people disagree with your company’s beliefs is entirely beside the point. For years, Chick-fil-A has been an outspokenly conservative group, and, just like many companies, it contributes money to organizations that espouse their beliefs. Even though I personally disagree with these principles, I do believe that if Chick-fil-A makes it a point to voice its beliefs on certain issues, it should stand by these beliefs even when they become unpopular. Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy made it clear where his organization stands on gay marriage, and then in the confusion surrounding why the Muppet toys were pulled, the company was made to look like it was being less than honest. Trust me, customers will respect you more if you support your beliefs at all times. If you cannot stand by your beliefs then don’t talk about them in public.
- Understand that you can’t fool increasingly informed consumers.
If the story about the fake Facebook account is true, then Chick-fil-A made one of the biggest marketing mistakes possible. Social media sites are platforms that are completely different from traditional modes of marketing. With social media, the idea is to act as an honest mediator between you and your client base. Internet users, particularly those who use social media, are much more informed consumers than consumers from decades past. Inventing a fake Facebook account to masquerade as a real person is an obvious lie, and your clients and customers will know immediately.
The most important thing to remember when developing any marketing or PR strategy, whether on or offline, is that dishonesty never, ever pays off. It might save you in the short-term, but it comes to light eventually. When trust is broken, it’s almost impossible to win it back.
On its website's FAQ, Chick-fil-A has stated that the decision to pull the Muppet toys was made on July 19. On July 20, they were notified of the Jim Henson Company's decision to end their partnership.