A sarcastic joke about diarrhea might be one of the first things one would think upon seeing the Twitter hashtag #thankschipotle.
But no, #thankschipotle was a reaction to the food chain’s decision to drop sponsorship of a Utah Boy Scout event due to the organizations stand against gay equality. It seems Chipotle’s newest offering is a jumbo sized social conscience, a menu item many are finding deliciously timely. The move also has some lessons for other brands as remaining neutral on gay rights increasingly becomes a non option.
It’s true that Chipotle did not exactly come up with this cancelation on its own but instead was more or less shamed into action by progressive activists at Think Progress. On March 19, Think Progress called out Chipotle for violating its own nondiscrimination policy. A day later, Chipotle’s desire to stomach a potential backlash led by activists diminished significantly. It announced that it would terminate its sponsorship. It emailed Think Progress, saying, in part, that the brand “believed that terminating the sponsorship and remaining consistent with our policy was the right thing to do.”[more]
What makes Chipotle’s move even more noteworthy is that a company spokesman had defended the sponsorship just a few days earlier, telling the Salt Lake Tribune that the Scouts organization was a good way to connect the brands to the values of the Utah community. It seems that what’s good for business in Utah isn’t necessarily good for business in the rest of Chipotle’s markets.
What other brands should take away from the Chipotle decision is that where there is action, there is reward. After slamming Chipotle for a failure to support its own values, Think Progress wrote that, “The decision puts Chipotle back in line with its corporate charitable giving policy” and posted a graphic on its Facebook page, encouraging readers to support Chipotle for “taking a stand against intolerance.” A day later, it had over 2,300 shares and some growing support on Twitter.
The move to get on the pro-gay equality bandwagon is moving at astonishing speed. So fast in fact that self-styled liberal Democrats like Hillary Clinton are finding their pro-gay announcements well behind those from staunchly conservative Republicans like former anti-gay equality Ohio Senator Rob Portman.
Brands are also increasingly embolden on the subject. Just last month, brands like Facebook, Intel, Apple and dozens of others have joined politicians urging national gay equality laws. And it’s not just tech brands or West Coast companies. Morgan Stanley is also a supporter of the pro-gay legislation. These efforts follow last year’s public support for gay marriage equality in Washington state by Starbucks, Microsoft and Nike.
One thing is for sure, as brands like Chipotle become open to—or are pushed to—support gay rights and the heretofore staunchly anti-gay-equality Republican party itself declares a need to rebrand on the subject, last year’s “biblical definition of the family unit” double-down by food chain Chick-fil-A looks even more shortsighted. It’s a lesson to other brands that quietly wink at their Christian values—e.g., Forever 21—to keep it that way.
Even for those brands that are quiet about their Christian principles, the clock it ticking. One brand that could soon find itself in need of choosing a side is iconic In-N-Out Burger. The west coast hamburger institution has for years slyly printed bible verses on its packaging while remaining mum in public statements about subjects like gay equality.
Looking for a path to navigate the future, brands like In-N-Out and others could do worse than to look to Marriott. While the hotel brand is run by a deeply Mormon family, its chief executive doesn’t just only avoid the topic but instead makes sure the brand publicly advocates gay equality, even if it might go against his personal beliefs. Another brand worth looking to, if only as a cautionary tale, is Target.
Anyway, the fix in which Chipotle—and soon many other brands—finds itself, is the future. It’s perfectly summed up by NPR “On the Media” host Bob Garfield in his new book “Can’t Buy Me Like: How Authentic Customer Connections Drive Superior Results”: “In the Relationship Era, brands can no longer project the image of their choosing.”