Barilla

Stepping into Troubled Waters

Starbucks and Barilla pasta demonstrated once again the travails of plunging into the roiled waters of emotional social issues.

With a nudge from Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz asked his latte-sipping customers to leave their guns at home, which prompted gun-toters to rush to the nearest coffee shop and take a selfie of them toting. One Facebook posting showed a guy with an assault rifle sucking up a grande drink, accompanied by his girlfriend wearing a Starbucks T-shirt.

Without a nudge, Chairman Guido Barilla told a reporter he wouldn't use a gay family in his advertisements because "the concept of the sacred family remains one of the basic values of the company." His comments spread through social media and triggered threats of a #BoycottBarilla. One of the first calls Barilla may have received could have been from Dan Cathy, CEO of Chick-fil-A, who earned a similar boycott for a similar comment. 

Neither plunge into troubled waters will likely have a lasting effect on either consumer giant, but the episodes show what can happen when you enter those waters. You better know how to swim in rough currents.

Schultz is no stranger to the culture wars. He has taken positions in support of gay rights and led a business effort to hire more Americans to speed economic recovery. It wasn't a huge surprise he would enter the gun control minefield. After all, Starbucks says it sells an experience, not just coffee. A lot of people may not be comfortable reading the morning paper or working on their laptop next to someone packing heat.