What I naively thought was something that would pass by rather quickly has taken on a life of its own. How the statement from the President of Chick-fil-A could incite and inspire nation-wide action is not unfounded, but its longevity is both surprising and encouraging.
The Chik-Fil-A argument can go several ways – The statement itself, his First Amendment right to say it, the religious beliefs that make his statement resonate with others, the right of municipal authorities to use their political prowess to prevent a legally-compliant business from expanding into a new market, the effect it has on the largely independent franchisees of the corporation, selective outrage, the money the corporation contributes to the financial ‘attack’ on gay marriage and how that compares to other corporations ‘attacking’ traditional marriage with their own revenue. This list can go on and on.
Rather I’d like to look at the gay and lesbian marketing community which has gotten involved in the conversation and has warned of severe long term repercussions for this privately owned corporation. Recently, many marketers have come out appalled that Chick-Fil-A’s president would make such a remark and his sneak attack on the rights of the gay and lesbian community would be met with hostility from consumers throughout the country for a prolonged period of time. In many ways, I find this to be optimistic but misguided. It seems that many marketers have let the media upheaval influence them and in doing such, looked past the foundations of the business.
Chick-Fil-A is a ‘Christian-run’ business. This self-description is supposed to be apparent in the values the corporation holds for itself and for its franchisees. The business is notoriously closed on Sundays in concurrence with biblical tradition. This is probably the only area of impact where the consumers come face to face with the Christian values the company holds for itself.
The president’s statement in of itself is not surprising. The support for ‘traditional’ marriage is one supported by not only Chick-Fil-A, but by the church in which they derive their values. Alternatively, this position is has been the steadfast of American politicians for years – mainly based on the same source they claim, their own values derive.
With $4 billion in annual sales, this Georgia-based restaurant includes some 1,614 restaurants in 39 states. When discussing the long term impacts of Chick-Fil-A’s marketing, its important examine the business in proper context. In this instance, we want to look at where the chain lives, geographically. Chick-fil-A grew its business in the food courts and malls of suburbia. Its franchises are largely located in south-west suburbia. While they have expanded significantly in the past few years, the majority of their locations by and large are still located and operated in this southern region of the United States.
This region of the United States is notably more conservative than other areas of the country. It’s unnecessary to delve into political polling that supports this, as I consider this common knowledge. When we look at the media-driven outrage it sparked, it’s important to remember their perspective. The larger media outlets whose voices are dominant are by and large located in northern cities. These regions are considerably more socially and politically liberal. The views expressed on marriage by these sources are not necessarily reflective of those throughout the country.
Chicago, New York, Boston, California, etc. will be at the opposing end of the argument in comparison to the more conservative, southern United States (in which Christian values are more culturally dominant). Support for the ‘traditional’ interpretation of marriage is loudest in this southern region of the US.
Thus, their President’s stance against the legalization of gay marriage is not unlike that of its base. Its core source of income in which they collect nearly $2.7 million per year, per franchise is still in the conservative south. What marketers have overlooked or misinterpreted are the voices of dissent and have failed to identify Chick-Fil-A’s current customer model. Chick-Fil-A’s President may not have similar views to the stereotypical resident of New York or California, but his sentiments are in concurrence with many of those that live in Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, and more – states in which Chick-Fil-A derives the majority of their business.
So what are the long term financial and marketing implications for Chick-fil-A? Nothing foreseeable to their existing franchises. While they may lose business in southern California where there is a significant presence and on northern college campuses and universities where they have began to expand, their loyal customer base will not be hostile or take particular offense to his statements and will continue to eat there regardless of what the media portrays the outrage to be.