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Why Barilla's CEO Has Demographics Working Against Him

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As a marketer, the comments last week from the Barilla Group Chairman Guido Barilla have left me scratching my head. In an Italian radio interview, he allegedly said he didn’t agree with homosexuality, nor would he feature gay people in the brand’s advertising. He basically said the woman is the center of the home and that’s the brand’s focus. Fair enough.

Barilla Group Chairman Guido Barilla

Last time I checked there are a lot of gay people who are women, and I know a lot of women who don’t cook. Sorry Guido.

If you are going to run a business, you need to know your audience by the numbers. And if you don’t know,  there are lots of places where you can buy the numbers. The "traditional" family (by what appears to be his description) is shrinking. In the 2010 census, "traditional" families constituted under half of all American households for the first time with projections to decrease even more. If you break those numbers down by families with a female head of household,  they drop even further. Mix in ethnic and religious diversity, and you have a melting pot. Welcome to my world. According to the Futures Company, 17.5 percent of gay couples have children. I bet a lot of them eat pasta just like their "traditional" counterparts.

#insert related here#

Just like the boomers before them, millennials are once again changing how we collectively feel about life and each other. They are walking away from traditional definitions of career, home, family and lifestyle. If you don’t follow them and get to know their way of life, they will likely walk away from your brand. Oh, and they’ll tell all their friends and followers about it socially too.

Truth be told, Barilla's CEO can say what ever he wants. Just like when Mike Jeffries, the CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch recently made what many considered offensive remarks about teenagers. This can be a form of targeting, conscious or not. Aligning your customers around shared values is indeed an effective way to engage them with your brand. Those who share your stated values will likely relate more to your brand and hence buy more. Look at the loyalty that resulted when the Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy declared his rejection of marriage equality.

If there’s a common theme here, it's that as a leader, you have to pay attention to what you say. If you run or own a company, you are the brand. Your words matter, and they can either align or deter your customers, very quickly.

Marketing lives in a free world. Any brand can basically stake a claim in any space it chooses. Choose wisely though because your customers will be doing the same. And if you’re not in line with the demographics, attitudes, and values of those customers, you may just lose them altogether.

Jim Joseph

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Jim Joseph is a commentator on the marketing industry. He is Global President of the marketing communications agency BCW, author of The Experience Effect series and an adjunct instructor at New York University.