In the age of sharing, sometimes it’s better if you keep your mouth shut.
That’s the lesson for Barilla Pasta CEO Guido Barilla, who for some reason felt compelled to let the world know that his pasta is for straight families only, and not gay families.
I’m still trying to figure out how this has anything to do with pasta one way or the other, but whatever.
The lesson here is two-fold:
- News travels fast. Within hours, Mr. Barilla’s comments had ricochet around the world and the predictable backlash started immediately. Not only did gay rights activists call for a boycott of Barilla products, but other pasta makers like Bertolli quickly devised gay-friendly ads and social media messages. Barilla will undoubtedly survive, but this wound was completely self-inflicted.
- CEOs are entitled to their opinions like anyone else, but it is possible to answer potentially controversial questions with a little diplomacy that allows one to not trash other people while not betraying one’s own personal values. Who’s the PR person who sent Guido into this trap? (not me!)
Mr. Barilla was asked why his advertising did not feature “gay families.” Here are a couple of acceptable responses:
- “They don’t? I’ll need to check into that. We want everyone to enjoy our pasta!”
- “I leave those decisions to my marketing team. I want everyone to enjoy our pasta.”
- “My job as CEO is to make sure we make the best pasta available. Did I mention how much I want everyone to enjoy our pasta?”
And here’s the final point: just because you’re an expert in one area—like running a pasta company—doesn’t mean you’re an expert in anything else or that the world needs to know your opinion about anything else.
A little humility can go a long way. So can a little silence.