Getting on the wrong side of Kermit the Frog is a bad move. That’s one of the salutary social media lessons being learned by US fast food chain Chick-fil-A as the firm’s controversial stance on marriage equality results in a nationwide war of words.
The trouble started when company president Dan Cathy proudly told an offline Baptist Press newspaper - Biblical Recorder - that he is “guilty as charged” of not supporting gay marriage reform in the US.
Now this is hardly news in its own right. Chick-fil-A – for the uninitiated palate - is a business with 1,608 restaurants in US, based down South and whose employees are trained to focus on Biblical values as they sell fried chicken.
Quite how that works in practice is unclear, but it’s a strategy that brought in $4 billion last year, at least $2 million of which in 2010 was then passed on to anti-gay associations, such as ‘gay cure’ organisation Exodus International
(currently attempting its own 'rebrand') and the right wing and inherently homophobic Family Research Council.
But what Cathy either forgot or simply didn’t consider relevant in his recent comments was that nothing stays offline for long in 2012. And so his remarks hit the Twitter-sphere and onto Facebook where they rapidly became a cause celebre.
None of this is to suggest that Chick-fil-A is ignorant of social media. In fact the firm chose to defend itself from a tidal wave of criticism by using its own Facebook page
to do so. This defence failed to address the specific comments made by Cathy and was simply a mission statement:
“Chick-fil-A is a family-owned and family-led company serving the communities in which it operates. From the day Truett Cathy started the company, he began applying biblically-based principles to managing his business. For example, we believe that closing on Sundays, operating debt-free and devoting a percentage of our profits back to our communities are what make us a stronger company and Chick-fil-A family.”
Somehow ignoring its on-the-record financial backing for charities and organisations that have a demonstrably anti-equality agenda, the statement goes on to claim:
“The Chick-fil-A culture and service tradition in our restaurants is to treat every person with honor, dignity and respect – regardless of their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender. We will continue this tradition in the over 1,600 Restaurants run by independent Owner/Operators. Going forward, our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena.”
Intolerant psychotics and cow appreciators
Needless to say this non-statement failed to appease critics - and in its last sentence is clearly wishful thinking, suggesting perhaps that Chick-fil-A is one of those organisations that - to the casual observer at any rate - don't seem to get that the notion that once the internet genie is out of the bottle, she doesn't go back in easily.
So it is that some 23,928 people had commented on the Facebook page by today, considerably more than the 153 who responded to the question on the same page ‘Did you dress from head-to-hoof to celebrate Cow Appreciation Day?’ or the just over over 800 people who are excited to know that Peach Milkshakes are back on the Chick-fil-A menu.
One commentor, tongue firmly in cheek rather than picking bits of chicken from between his teeth, observed:
“Thank God for Mr. Cathy! My four wives are so grateful that he is sticking up for Biblical ways! BRB, gotta sell my daughter as a debt slave to a Canaanite...”
Cathy did attract some supporters of course, such as the gentleman who rationalised:
“Irrational anti-Christian left wing, Marxist freaks, they comprise 10% of the population and are despised by the other 90%..... and with good reason, these are the most intolerant and psychotic amongst us.”
For the Family Research Council there was the reassuring news on its own web site: WE'LL SUPPORT CHICK-FIL-A, COME WHAT MAYO! - which is quite amusing. Followed by the rather less amusing, but revealingly politicised:
"Anyone who thinks that redefining marriage will satisfy homosexual activists hasn't been paying attention. There is no appeasing this minority until the only freedom that exists in America is the freedom to agree with the radical Left."
Social media wars
For those less inclined to overlook Chick-fil-A’s allegiance, a Twitter hashtag #ChickFilGay
was set up to offer copycat chicken recipes so customers who like the taste of the chicken, if not the ideology, could make the company’s sandwiches at home, thus avoiding indirectly bankrolling homophobic organisations.
To prove your support for the firm and for “Godly values”, Huckabee and the National Organisation for Marriage
– which it may not surprise you to learn is rabidly anti same sex marriage equality - wants their followers to make sure that they get stuck into some fried chicken and waffle-fries next Wednesday.
You may not have spotted a noticeable decline in Starbucks fortunes as a result of this boycott, but NOfM has, declaring that the campaign has apparently:
“shown the cultural elite, the gay millionaires who fund anti-marriage initiatives, and the biased media that the defenders of marriage are willing to put our money where our mouth is.”
They’ll be hoping for similar ‘success’ then next week when they want:
“folks all across the country united together in support of heroes like Dan and Truett Cathy [Truett was the founder] that stand for strengthening marriage and family!”
And eating fried chicken, of course. Or as NOfM puts it (possibly phonetically for the benefit of some of its members?): “Eat Mor Chikin”.
One place where Chick-fil-A’s supporters won’t get the chance to super-size their protect is Boston where city Mayor Thomas Menino declared:
“Chick-fil-A doesn’t belong in Boston. You can’t have a business in the city of Boston that discriminates against the population. We’re an open city, we’re a city that’s at the forefront of inclusion. That’s the Freedom Trail. That’s where it all started right here. And we’re not going to have a company, Chick-fil-A or whatever the hell the name is, on our Freedom Trail.”
But elsewhere in the country it’s to be hoped that Huckabee’s backers get their dates right as if they turn up two days later they’ll find themselves at the Same Sex Kiss Day
whereby the organisers want their supporters to turn up at Chick-fil-A restaurants and pucker up. Facebook and Twitter are again being used to manage the logistics for this protest.
It's time to play the music
But while the social media battlefield rang out with attack and counter-attack, there was one force majeure waiting in the wings: Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy and the whole Muppets clan.
Chick-fil-A had a deal with the Muppets human associates at the Jim Henson Company to give out Muppet toys to kids who ate at the chicken restaturant chain. But in the wake of Cathy’s comments Kermit and Co announced that they have:
“celebrated and embraced diversity and inclusiveness for over fifty years and we have notified Chick-Fil-A that we do not wish to partner with them on any future endeavours.”
It leaves Chick-fil-A with an interesting dilemma. The firm clearly hoped to kill the whole fuss with one bland statement on Facebook, tucked between the Peach Milkshakes and the fancy dress cows. That didn’t work.
In effect, the failure to engage fully with the social media onslaught and manage a counter response directly has:
- (a) left its defence to a rag-tag of right wing and fundamentalist organisations whose actions may yet end up bringing further reputational damage by enflaming the social media war of words
- (b) seen it lose the public backing of that most family-focused of American icons, the Muppets, replaced by….Mick Huckabee. That’s really not finger-licking good (Ed's Note: apologies to that other chicken fast food firm).
Quite what Cathy thinks now is unclear. But in his original interview – the one that started all this off – he insisted:
"We intend to stay the course. We know that it might not be popular with everyone, but thank the Lord, we live in a country where we can share our values and operate on biblical principles."