There is an old adage that you should never discuss religion or politics outside of your doorstep and in the past few months not heeding this advice has tripped up a number of restaurant chains. Earlier this year it was Chick fil A, which was forced into crisis mode by anti-gay marriage comments from the chain’s president. The comments energized partisans on both sides of the debate and gave a range of politicos an opportunity to make hay. While some are trying to argue that the incident actually helped short-term sales at Chick fil A, it was certainly not the sort of publicity that helps build brands and burnish reputations.
In the weeks since the presidential election, Obamacare has been the blue plate special served up for controversy at places like Papa John’s, Denny’s and Applebee’s with the pizza chain’s head and franchisees at the other two restaurants decrying the healthcare law and threatening draconian staff cuts and price rises.
Now comes evidence of how this latest venture out of the kitchen and into the political scrum impacted perceptions of the aforementioned restaurant thanks to a study by YouGov Brandindex. The results show a quick and precipitous drop in Papa John’s and Applebee’s perceptions. Denny’s suffered a similar fate initially when a major franchisee added his voice to the anti-Obamacare chorus but perceptions bounced off the lows when the corporate CEO publicly apologized a few days later.
Reputations are fragile things which need much care and protection, particularly in the consumer marketplace. They take hard work and time to establish and preserve but as too often seen in recent months, can be cast asunder with a few intemperate words regarding subjects many don’t want the companies/brands they utilize to weigh in on. Interestingly, at a time when there is much discussion about the bounds of corporate speech, it is the people aligned with these companies who can damage reputations by exercising their own constitutional rights. Corporate communications professionals need to help their executives understand how airing views beyond the scope of company business can impact all stakeholders. The YouGov BrandIndex study provides a lesson worth learning.