Sunday, December 22, 2013

Why Businesses Should Avoid Taking Sides - Humiliated Cracker Barrel Publicly Backs Down After TheyThumbs Nose at 200-Plus Million Current and Potential Customers

Why I Won't Be Eating At Cracker Barrel Again ...
My Cardiologist is Thrilled, But I'll Miss Their Great Food

Update:  Within 24 hours of this being posted (but I'm not trying to take credit - thousands also posted) - Cracker Barrel reversed itselfFrom a PR point of view, this was a sound move - trying to stop the damage in its tracks, and their statement on Facebook (scroll down for the text) was forthright-sounding, and it made no excuses.  But larger issues remain, and this won't go away.  For instance, why did Cracker Barrel decide to step into a huge cultural battle when it had no dog in the fight?  The only logical reason for this knee-jerk and un-motivated action is that the management instinctively sides with GLAAD - which is at odds with their corporate image ... or, that they were behind-the-scenes threatened by GLAAD and acted under that pressure.  Either way, they've lost the respect of millions of customers, and it will take more than a Facebook post to get it back.

Another note - this is a major loss for GLAAD, when a national corporation decides to listen to millions of customers rather than a small one-issue pressure group.  It could also pave the way for A&E to cut their losses and reverse their position before they lose the Duck Dynasty franchise entirely.  But so far ... nothing on that front.

For no practical reason I can discern - at least not one linked to discriminating against Christians - Cracker Barrel has just banned Duck Dynasty merchandise from their stores. They did this for a single reason: Phil Robertson, patriarch of the Duck Dynasty clan, dared to speak out about what the bible says about sin, and to affirm how he believes what the bible said.  When asked by an interviewer for a GQ magazine article - the Duck Dynasty patriarch didn't bring this up on his own - Robertson noted that in several places, the bible provides believers with a long list of sexually-related transgressions (sins) that can be committed by people, and both he and the bible say all of these sins were equally wrong, and no different in God's eyes than any other sins.  

These sexually-focused sins include every kind of sex except sex between a man and woman who are married, one to another.  This list includes sleeping with prostitutes (both male and female), extra-marital sex, pre-marital sex, homosexual sex and bestiality.  However, I think it's important to note that the bible doesn't single out homosexuality as an especially bad sin, and it didn't specifically link that sin to bestiality, and neither did Robertson. The media did that.

Oddly, Cracker Barrel decided to go public with this decision on the same day that Walmart announced that it had sold out of the same Duck Dynasty-branded products nationally, and on the Internet.  Like Cracker Barrel, and facing the same pressure, Walmart could also have chosen to pull the products. A company that makes $17 billion dollars in profits can afford to lose a bit on a few products.  After all, they have a great many Gay customers, at least some of whom will be suckered in by GLAAD's hyperbole and A&E's craven venality.  

However, the Bentonville retailer has a great deal of experience to standing up to - and staring down - "kill 'em all" one-issue pressure groups.  Looking at the demographic balance sheet - 200 million-plus bible-believing Christians vs. maybe 10 million Gays - they decided the risk of offending Gays over a trumped-up issue was worth the reward of selling out a profitable product line and - even more important - letting bible-believing Christians know Walmart stood behind the idea of free religious expression.  

By selling out that Duck Dynasty product line, essentially everywhere, and doing so within days of the kerfuffle erupting, Walmart's experience suggests that the Gnomes of Bentonville were correct in their balance-sheet decision to allow customers (not the company) to make the choice of buying or not buying Duck Dynasty products.

Walmart's commercial experience suggests that the Duck Dynasty-branded products are, at least currently, in huge demand.  That more-or-less proves that Cracker Barrel didn't pull the products because they were poor commercial performers. Casting about for a valid reason, it seems clear the Cracker Barrel executives pulled the Duck Dynasty gear because they believe that they have both the right (they do - we still have a free-market) as well as the self-appointed duty to punish Christians who dare to speak out about what their bible says, and what they believe about what the bible says.  

While that's legal, that's also pure, unmitigated religious discrimination.  If this discrimination had been focused on Jews or Muslims, it would have been called "hate speech," but against Christians, it's not a problem.  Ask yourself:  would any mainstream American company ever dare single out and punish - for his beliefs - a Jew or a Muslim?  Of course not.  But apparently, the Cracker Barrel CEO and his minions believe that Christians are fair game.  

Here's what they said:

"Cracker Barrel’s mission is Pleasing People. We operate within the ideals of fairness, mutual respect and equal treatment of all people.  These ideals are the core of our corporate culture."

Let's analyze that statement.  "Cracker Barrel's mission is Pleasing People."  Question - how many of America's 200-plus million bible-believing Christians feel "pleased" by this blatant discrimination against one of their co-religionists? The odds are that very few bible believing Christians would feel pleased. Admittedly, tens of millions of Christians are too disengaged to have any opinion, but that still leaves tens or even hundreds of millions of Christians to be offended.  

The very fact that the total audience numbers for Duck Dynasty are higher than the total number of Gays in America - and the fact that viewers of the show are just a small fraction of believing Christians - suggests that Cracker Barrel is on the wrong demographic side of this issue, and that millions of customers and potential customers will not proved to be pleased.  

Beyond that, of course, any reasonable person who's ever been to Cracker Barrel knows that their core business audience is far, far, far more likely to be Christian and Duck Dynasty fans, or at least individuals who resent discrimination against fellow Christians who's only "sin" was to express their belief in the words of the bible, than they are to be activist Gay supporters of GLAAD.  Consciously offending a significant portion of their core audience is just not a sound business decision.

Next, they said:  "We operate within the ideals of fairness, mutual respect and equal treatment of all people."  Again, let's examine this.

Does discriminating against Phil Robertson for honestly expressing his beliefs that are clearly spelled out in the bible equate with "fairness, mutual respect and equal treatment?"  Have they ever banned products from others who spoke out in favor of their religion?  Have they ever banned a Jew or Muslim for speaking out in favor of one of the more controversial tenets of their faith?  Of course not.

Now, because discriminating against Phil for his beliefs is - by extension - discrimination against all people who share his belief in the integrity of God's word as presented in the bible, how do those 200 million-plus self-professed Christians feel about Cracker Barrel's actions?  Honestly, many of them won't know and, even if they did know, many of them won't care. However, the same lack of interest holds true for the Gays. Only a small portion of Gay Americans subscribe to the GLAAD self-appointed mandate to crush anyone who speaks out in opposition to one of their shibboleths.  

Most Gays, like most Americans, are content to live their lives in a society that really doesn't care about Gays one way or another, and certainly doesn't discriminate against them they way they did 40 years ago.  Laws have been passed, and Supreme Court has overturned state laws that discriminate, even in the privacy of the bedroom. In short, those days are, for the most part, behind us.  

Further, as noted, some Christians who do learn about it won't care about the Cracker Barrel's actions, and a great many more of them won't ever learn about it.  As much as those of us who live and work in the blogosphere like to think otherwise, not every American is politically-aware. Still, while perhaps a simple majority of the 200-million-plus Christian Americans won't care, we can count on at least tens of millions of Americans who will deeply resent this.  They will not see the "fairness, mutual respect and equal treatment" in this action by Cracker Barrel.  

Nor should they.

Finally, the Cracker Barrel statement said:  "These ideals are the core of our corporate culture."  Clearly, that's not true - not unless Cracker Barrel views these ideals as applying only to politically-active (and aggressive) one-issue minority-privilege pressure groups like GLAAD, but that culture does not apply to the vast majority of Americans who don't threaten others when their perceived rights are trampled upon.

In short, the Cracker Barrel weasel-word-loaded statement has no substantive value.  It rings hollow, because their harsh and discriminatory actions speak far louder than their lame words of justification.

But what does this all mean?  A&E is already losing viewers - and, as I write this, it appears that A&E executives have killed their golden goose - the highest-rated show in cable history is in a death-spiral, because the Robertson family seems set on not participating in a program that doesn't include their Patriarch - and A&E has backed themselves into the corner by jumping through a flaming hoop to suspend Robinson without even talking with him.  

NPR did this when someone senior took offense at an honest statement by Juan Williams, long-time left-wing liberal commentator.  Williams is someone whose job was to offer left-leaning opinions - he was supposed to be opinionated. He was not someone whose job was read the news - and who is therefore supposed to be dispassionate.  

Here was his "sin."  As a man hired to offer opinions and commentary, Juan Williams honestly admitted that he had an irrational fear whenever he saw men dressed in Muslim garb gathered on a plane with him. He didn't say it was right - he certainly didn't call for actions against Muslims - he just admitted an honest fear.  For that honesty he was almost immediately fired.  

Almost immediately after he was fired, Juan Williams was given a better and higher-paying job by the supposed right-wing Fox News, where he was given the absolute freedom to present any views on issues, providing an intelligent and courageous counterpoint to the right wing slant of the network.

Also, almost immediately, the public outrage over Williams' firing led to a dramatic drop in donations to NPR, as well as attacks by even liberal media. They empaneled an internal review board and quickly decided that their CEO had acted precipitously, but not wisely, and terminated her contract.  Too late, of course, because NPR had already both lost an articulate member of their team, but their reputation for anything approaching fairness was badly tarnished.  

It may come back some day, but not yet.

I predict that the same thing will happen at Cracker Barrel, for roughly the same reason.  NPR is a non-profit and depends on donations from supportive listeners.  Cracker Barrel is a for-profit and depends on revenue from satisfied customers. Anything that cuts into that revenue stream threatens NPR and Cracker Barrel.

I also urge those of you who are currently Cracker Barrel customers who also either believe in the bible, or - absent that - believe in a man's right to state his religious beliefs without losing his job - to write to Cracker Barrel or call them and tell them what you think.  I suggest that you don't threaten them, or use vile language, or act anything other than professional.  Tell them, instead, how you feel about their actions, and how those feelings will guide your future restaurant-selection decisions.  Be polite, firm, and let them know.  This is far more effective than signing an online petition (those don't hurt, but they don't help as much as people often think.

Cracker Barrel is a publicly-traded company.  Executives leading that company - including the executives who decided to punish Robertson even at risk of falling profits - have a legal and fiduciary responsibility to preserve and enhance those investors' money.  If, as the result of their action, the company starts losing customers, market share, revenue and profits - and I predict it will, as it's already lost me - then the Board and the shareholders can be expected to ask some sharp questions. Because there are no good answers for a for-profit company to trade away profits, revenues and customer good-will to advance someone else's political agenda, I predict there will be fewer executives still working at Cracker Barrel after the board - or the shareholders - get through evaluating the results of this recent action.  

You heard it here first (I hope).

Update - Here's what Cracker Barrel said in apologizing.

"When we made the decision to remove and evaluate certain Duck Dynasty items, we offended many of our loyal customers. Our intent was to avoid offending, but that's just what we've done.  You told us we made a mistake. And, you weren't shy about it. You wrote, you called and you took to social media to express your thoughts and feelings. You flat out told us we were wrong. We listened," the company continued then announced that Duck Dynasty products will be returned to its stores while apologizing for offending the shows conservative fans.

"Today, we are putting all our Duck Dynasty products back in our stores. And, we apologize for offending you. We respect all individuals right to express their beliefs. We certainly did not mean to have anyone think different. We sincerely hope you will continue to be part of our Cracker Barrel family,"

No comments:

Post a Comment