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Free Marketing Advice: Chick-Fil-A, Just Stop

by Randall Cleveland

You've probably heard of the ruckus by now, but in case you haven't: fast food chain Chick-Fil-A has been in the news recently because their owner came out as pro- "traditional marriage" or, as the media have spun it, anti-gay rights. Stop. Stop right there. I see you mousing over the comment button, ready to take me to task for daring to tackle such a hot button issue on a commerce site. Well, I'm not. I'm not going to discuss the arguments on either side of the issue. I'm only here to offer some unsolicited advice to Chick-Fil-A on their recent series of PR blunders.

Ready? Here it is:

Shut. The hell. Up.

Halloweekend 2009
The debate in a nutshell.

That's it. That's all it takes. That's all you had to do in the first place! Your political leanings should have absolutely zero impact on my desire for a sub-mediocre chicken sandwich (seriously, I don't get the "oh it's tough to boycott them because it's so delicious!" argument. I eat TACO BELL and I consider Chick-Fil-A to be substandard fare). There was absolutely no reason to stand up and take an arbitrary and meaningless stand on this particular issue. Was the nation waiting for fast food to weigh in? No.

You don't get to run a business the size of Chick-Fil-A without having some business acumen, certainly. Surely one would realize that even if this is your most vehement belief, the benefits of trumpeting it from the rooftops are far outweighed by the potential fallout. Right? If company president Dan Cathy wants to take on those issues in his personal life, great. More power to him. But even if people are beating down your office doors demanding to know Chick-Fil-A's stance on a political issue, the ONLY correct answer is: "Why do you care? We make f&%*ing chicken sandwiches. Leave us out of it." Now you've even got a mayor, a person who benefits from your business employing people in the city and paying taxes, bashing you publicly for easy political points.

But okay, you've done it. You've taken a stand for something you believe in and said your piece. Fine. Then at least have the guts to stand by it. When the Jim Henson Company announced they were pulling their Muppets toys from the restaurants, Chick-Fil-A quickly countered with a "Nuh uh! We got rid of YOU first!" and claimed they recalled the toys due to safety concerns exactly one day BEFORE the Muppets announced they were leaving. Who's being honest? I don't really know, but who felt the need to respond and wade into a public slap fight with arguably some of the most beloved childhood mascots in American culture?

Chick-Fil-A, you need to hire me to stand beside whoever makes the decisions in your company and just periodically shout, "No! STOP THAT! That's BAD!"

I'm available for $100K/year plus benefits.

And while we're at it, here's some free social media advice: DON'T PRETEND TO BE A TEENAGE GIRL AND FIGHT WITH PEOPLE ON FACEBOOK.

If you take a stand, ANY stand, some people won't like it. Part of taking a stand means you accept that. Focus on catering to your target audience, not fighting with people who have already written you off. I realize it's Business 101 to think "More Customers = More Money" but it's not that simple. You want the RIGHT customers. You want the customers who are fervent, dedicated, and will return again and again, maybe even bringing their friends. You will never win a customer by brow-beating them in a Facebook conversation about bible quotes and toy distribution. No one walks away from that discussion saying, "Y'know, a chicken sandwich would hit the spot." So why are you doing that? When you play these creepy games it makes you seem less like a company with bold-but-controversial opinions and more like a creepy, Charles Carreon-esque weirdo convinced that you can change the mind of the entire Internet.

SPOILER: It doesn't work that way.

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Flickr photo Halloweekend 2009 by JasonParis used under a Creative Commons License.