Marketing Fail: Truth, Lies and Chicken Sandwiches

If you’ve been following social media for the last few days, I’m sure you’ve run across this Chick-fil-A mess. In case you are just coming out into the warm sunshine after a long hibernation, you should know that Chick-fil-A is a Georgia-based fast food chain that is known for its chicken sandwiches — and for the far right-leaning politics of its founder, S. Truett Cathy and current president Dan Cathy.

That’s the basic set-up.

Three things have happened recently that has brought Chick-fil-A to the top of certain news wires. First, Dan Cathy gave an interview to the Baptist Press where he noted that the company was supportive of traditional family values. Then, in the wake of reports about Chick-fil-A’s support of a number of anti-gay organizations, the Jim Henson Company announced that it would pull its affiliation with the firm. Photos then started appearing that seemed to imply that Chick-fil-A had removed the Henson toys from their stores because of a “possible safety issue.” Then, the company was accused of creating a fake Facebook account and using it to dispel rumors.

Think what you want about Chick-fil-A. Personally, I think they are repellent, but I want to put politics and beliefs aside here and focus on what this means for marketing, PR, and the implications thereof.

Casey Chan first reported the story on Gizmodo.

Here’s a clip from Chan’s report:

Yep, Chick-fil-A is still stuck in its own reality and is doubling down on its lie. Instead of owning up to the fact that The Jim Henson Company stopped doing business with them because they’re overrun with bigots, the chicken sandwich company appears to have made fake Facebook accounts to defend its honor on the social network. How do we know the accounts are fake? Just check out this back and forth on Chick-fil-A’s Facebook page between real, breathing people and “Abby Farle”, a Facebook account that was made 8 hours ago by a chicken PR flack with a stock image of a teenage girl as her profile picture:

I have several problems with Chan’s report, blatantly filled with editorializing and unsubstantiated allegations. This is not investigative journalism. It’s not even journalism. It’s a rant.

Cavan Sieczkowski’s report on Huffington Post  is better, but neither actually have any substantive proof that the Facebook postings came from anyone associated with Chick-fil-A. It’s all a lot of reporting on rumors. Chick-fil-A, by the way, denies any fakery came from them.

Given Chick-fil-A’s track record, I’m not so sure that I believe them, but I hope it’s the truth. Those of us engaged in the pursuit of advertising, marketing and public relations are all ill-served by a corporation that would stoop to chicanery such as this. When everything finally shakes out, a corporation that is found lying about itself, its products, services or business practices, makes it that much harder for the general public to believe those of us who go about our daily lives in this field telling the truth.

And, of course, telling the truth is at the heart of the matter. Advertisers, marketers and public relations folks who are doing their jobs, are doing them with integrity. That’s the only way you can be successful in the long-term. As the great David Ogilvy said nearly three decades ago in Ogilvy on Advertising (he also said something very similar in 1963’s Confessions of an Advertising Man), “The consumer is not a moron, she is your wife.”

When you forget that — when you begin to think of “the consumer” as some nameless, faceless, idiot that you can control with your clever spin — please, for the good of mankind, get out of the business. When you think you can solve a problem with lies, stop it. You can’t. When you think you can fool people by pulling a stunt like creating a phony Facebook persona, you’re doing it wrong. You’re not a marketer. You’re a liar. And you’re corrupting my profession.

Sadly, I fear many have indeed forgotten, if they ever thought about it in the first place. Just a cursory read of the comments on Chan’s Gizmodo story is enough to turn my stomach. Where, oh where, has integrity gone?

And one last thing — and this goes to you photo editors out there — the Jim Henson Company does not own the Muppets. Disney does. So, all those stories about the Henson Company cutting its ties with Chick-fil-A that show a photo of Kermit the Frog or Miss Piggy? Well, you should probably change them to reflect a product actually owned by Henson. It’s called authenticity. And good journalism.

As for me, well, I’ll never spend a dime in a Chick-fil-A restaurant and I’ll ask my friends not to either. Dan Cathy won’t ever feel my refusal in his pocketbook, but it makes it a lot easier for me to get up in the morning and look at myself in the mirror.

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