The family-held Italian food company Barilla came under fire last week after its chairman, Guido Barilla, said that the company would never feature a same-sex family in a commercial.
“I would never do (a commercial) with a homosexual family, not for lack of respect but because we don’t agree with them,” Barilla said during an interview with Italy’s national Radio 24 station. “Ours is a classic family where the woman plays a fundamental role.”
Barilla, an internationally recognized brand, is known for advertising that depicts a happy family. Their slogan is, “Where there’s Barilla, there’s home.”
Barilla said he was in favor of gay marriage, which is not yet legal in Italy, but that he opposes allowing gay parents to adopt children. The company chairman noted that “as a father of multiple children, I believe it’s very hard to raise kids in a same-sex couple.” He added that if gay people “like our pasta and our advertising, they’ll eat our pasta, if they don’t like it then they will not eat it and they will eat another brand.”
Reactions to his remarks spread over social media. Nobel-winning playwright Dario Fo, who once appeared on a Barillo advertisement, created a petition on Change.org asking Barilla to make amends for the pain his words have caused:
I remember the first television commercials for Barilla Pasta, in which I participated as an actor and a writer. They were hugely successful in establishing the Barilla brand. During that time I also had an opportunity to meet Peter, your father. He was a person full of creativity and intelligence, with a passion for arts and culture. It was in those commercials where we introduced the world to Barilla, and introduced products that have become a symbol of Italy and Italians everywhere. Barilla Pasta is synonymous with Italy, with home, and with family.
Today our country is made up of many families, united by the love. Love that is not able to discriminate, and which has no borders. That love is all over the world and it can come between a man and a woman, two women, or two men. A family is based on love, and your companyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s statements want to represent families. […] Guido, your company has come to define Italy — an Italy that is also made of unmarried couples, extended families, and families with LGBT parents. That’s why I ask you to take this opportunity and to return to the spirit of those commercials I starred in during the 1950s. That’s why I ask you to end this controversy, and be an ambassador of equality for all.
I ask you, Guido, to reflect the true Italy of today and become an ambassador of equality and a voice of the present. And I ask you to commit to an upcoming advertising campaign from Barilla, where the family can finally be represented in all its infinite and wonderful shapes of our times.
The petition received over 60,000 signatures from people around the world and forced the chairman to issue an apology.
“Yesterday I apologized for offending many people around the world,” says Guido Barilla in the video posted to the company’s site. “Today I am repeating that apology. Though my entire life, I always respected every person I met, including gays and their families, without any distinction. I’ve never discriminated against anyone. I’ve heard the countless reactions around the world to my words, which have depressed and saddened me. It is clear I have a lot to learn about the lively debate concerning the evolution of the family. In the coming weeks, I pledge to meet representatives of the groups that best represent the evolution of the family, including those who have been offended by my words.”
GLAAD, an LGBT advocacy group based in the United States, described this pledge as a good first step for the company. Rich Ferraro, GLAADÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s vice president of communications, said the company should go further by providing financial help to Italian LGBT organizations that work to end prejudice.
Competitor Bertolli immediately took the opportunity to differentiate its brand by posting pro-gay imagery on its Facebook wall with the caption “Love and pasta for all!” Speaking with AdWeek, a representative for Orca im Hafen, which handles Bertolli’s social-media engagement in Germany, said, “we just wanted to spread the news that Bertolli welcomes everyone, especially those with an empty stomach.”
AdWeek points out that Bertolli’s LGBT-friendly advertisements are not limited to Europe, posting this commercial from a few years back:
For those who want to avoid Barilla until the company makes changes beyond a pledge, Advocate has a list of non-discrimminating alternatives. And here’s the approved pasta list, from the Huffington Post.
Header post features couple from Bertolli gay-friendly advert being censored by a Barilla logo altered to read “homophobes” in Italian.