When I was a young squirt, Coca-Cola attempted to slip something dubious by its insanely loyal consumers. With all the confidence Bill Cosby could generate, it insisted that the product millions of people loved could be improved upon, and it introduced to us a new cola with a new taste and called it New Coke.

The reaction was immediate. There were protests. There were boycotts. There was gnashing of teeth. Allegiances  shifted to Pepsi. Pledges were made to never wet the tongue with Coke again. It was pretty serious stuff.

So serious, in fact, that Coca-Cola was forced to admit that a mistake had been made, and they re-branded the old formula as Coca-Cola Classic. And there was much rejoicing.

Twenty years later, another beloved brand, Chick-Fil-A, committed a grave error similar in scope. And it’s costing them.

Like Coca-Cola, Chick-Fil-A believed that their customers’ loyalty was without condition. That it was unbreakable. That their tasty product was untouchable. Often when a person spends a lifetime reaping nothing but praise, he forgets that his masters are the ones who reap it. Chick-Fil-A is learning.

It was no secret that the ownership of Chick-Fil-A is deeply conservative. We found their refusal to serve food on Sunday charming. We admired their Christian values, even if we weren’t really asking what those values were. We heard rumors about their refusal to hire homosexuals as a matter of biblical principle and we shrugged with our mouths full of chicken. Nobody is perfect, right?

“Guilty as charged!” trumpeted Dan Cathy in a recent interview, when asked if Chick-fil-A’s backing of families led by a man and a woman. Now personal policy has publicly been made into corporate policy. And Chick-Fil-A forced its consumers to make a choice.

Henry Ford was reportedly an anti-Semite and a Nazi sympathizer. That was him. Ford Company was something else. It makes cars. Henry Ford was a kooky old guy. As consumers, we are sophisticated enough to distinguish between the two. Cathy elected to weave his beliefs into Chick-Fil-A’s business model. Now, as we sink our teeth into a Chick-Fil-A Original chicken sandwich, we are also digesting Chick-Fil-A’s menu of beliefs, too.

A comment that could have been met with indifference (or, as Cathy might have imagined, embraced) snowballed into an avalanche of criticism and shameless politicizing. The Muppets ended their alliance with the fast food chain, earning a round of praise even though Chick-Fil-A’s values were never hidden. The mayors from Boston and Chicago declared that their cities would no longer host Chick-Fil-A, completely trumping the will of the consumer.

Worse for Chick-Fil-A are its so-called supporters, like Mike Huckabee who brazenly declared a Support Chick-Fil-A Day. Listen, Mike Huckabee, the last thing Chick-Fil-A wants is a Support Chick-Fil-A Day attended by the darkest fringes of the Tea Party. What Chick-Fil-A wants is for everyone to chill the fuck out.

Boycotting Chick-Fil-A is an easy choice for me: I don’t support its values and I like chicken sandwiches from any number of closed-lip vendors who know how to separate business from belief. What we are witnessing today isn’t an assault on “freedom of expression” or a “war on Christian values,” as some have implied. What we are seeing is Capitalism at its finest – only the smart survive.

Chick-Fil-A rolled the dice. They lost. And they don’t even have an Original Formula to fall back on.

 

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