Italian pasta king puts company in hot water with anti-gay comment

Fri Sep 27, 2013 6:38pm EDT
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By Steve Scherer

ROME (Reuters) - When pasta king Guido Barilla found himself pilloried on social media for saying he would never use a gay family in his advertising, rival pasta maker Buitoni was quick to capitalize.

A picture on its Facebook page of an open door looking out onto a courtyard featured the caption: "At Buitoni's house, there's a place for everyone."

It was a stark demonstration of the rising power of social media. Barilla's comments to a medium-sized Italian radio station on Wednesday quickly became a global public relations disaster with a likely knock-on effect on sales.

The comments that he would "never" do an ad "with a homosexual family" to a station that has barely more than 2 million daily listeners spread like wildfire on Twitter and Facebook, sparking worldwide calls to boycott products by the world's biggest pasta maker on Thursday.

The outcry will weigh on U.S. sales in the short term, and Barilla's immediate response to the uproar was "muddled and odd", Ashley McCown, a crisis communications expert at Solomon McCown in Boston, told Reuters.

"In the U.S. people want to feel good about the things they buy and who they buy them from," she said.

In a written statement on Thursday, Barilla said he was sorry "if I offended some people".

Late on Friday the 55-year-old company chairman posted a video on Facebook saying he respected everyone, "including gays and their families".   Continued...