Point Open for Opinion
by Shelby Hearn
Counterpoint Silence Sells
by Austin VanKirk
Freedom of speech is a fundamental right for every American, yet it is a right under constant scrutiny. While society has decided that we shouldn’t say certain things, there will always be people and companies all over the world doing so anyway. While many large corporations have begun expressing political views of their own, and by extension, imposing them on their customers, I have to ask, is that really so wrong?
I know I am not the only one who appreciates when a company, politician, or individual steps up and takes a stance. With all of the controversy now surrounding same-sex marriage, it is no wonder that companies are coming out with products, advertisements, and statements that align themselves with one side or another. Whether they are doing it to support a political view or not, it is simply good business!
As a particularly opinionated individual, I have to be careful when offering up my opinions on controversial issues, unless I want to be a walking target. While I am not always willing to keep my mouth shut, I have started to learn that sometimes it’s better to keep quiet. Recently topics have become increasingly heated, debates increasingly uncivilized, and I find myself staying quiet more often than I would like. I am not particularly proud of the fact that I find myself biting my tongue to keep quiet instead of jumping into battle. However, I am pleased to see that many companies are being upfront and vocal with their opinions on issues of the day.
After the Chick-fil-A scandal, in which the openly religious company came out against same-sex marriages, many companies have followed suit, taking a position one way or the other. Both Amazon and Target came out publicly in support of same-sex marriage. Amazon then pledged a sizable donation to a same sex marriage advocacy group, and Target created a wedding registry advertisement that showcases a same-sex couple. While all three of these companies have had negative press for their political alignment, they also have created a core consumer base that not only likes their products, but agrees with their political views as well. This has created a deeper level of appreciation and support from their consumers. While I am sure that these companies who take sides on issues lose some business in the immediate aftermath, in the long run, I wonder just how much this will really hurt or help their sales. I personally support same-sex marriage, and I also happen to love Target (as do most college aged people, who for the most part also happen to be more accepting on average of same-sex couples—Target knows their audience!), so their advertisement only makes me a bigger fan. I’ve never tried Chick-fil-A. I had in the recent past heard good things about their food and was planning to go eventually. Now, I don’t plan to pay them any business.
As the old saying goes, “There is no such thing as bad press.” Whether in a positive or negative light, all three of these companies have been making headlines, placing their brand names in the minds of the American consumer, and doing it at little to no cost to themselves. I’m not sure I can think of a better publicity strategy.
Same sex marriage is a divisive issue, but in looking at recent numbers the percentage of people who support and are in opposition of same-sex marriage is pretty close to fifty percent, and the number who support it is much higher in younger generations. With these numbers in mind, taking a stance such as this can only help their sales.
These companies do take a gamble by aligning themselves with one side of an issue. If the issue aligns with the values of the company, whether that opinion is right or wrong, I respect them more for standing up and voicing it. I think we can expect companies to become increasingly vocal about controversial political issues, especially with elections ever approaching, because when it comes right down to it, it’s just good business.
My normal state of half-awake was disturbed one day in tenth grade American History when my teacher began to lecture on the U.S. Sedition Act of 1918. Typically, I spent this class period inventing new ways to scribe my name, but as my teacher began to elaborate on this lecture, American history suddenly got a hell of a lot more interesting. The Sedition Act was put into place by Congress during World War I as an extension of the Espionage Act of 1917, prohibiting U.S. citizens from criticizing the war or U.S. government in either speech or writing. If a person was found in violation of this law, s/he could be given a jail sentence of up to twenty years. When my teacher asked the class if this Act was morally right or constitutional, everyone in the class—save me—agreed that, yes, the Sedition Act, a clear violation of First Amendment rights, was a necessary and good thing. Raising my hand to disagree was the singular act that caused me to be labeled as a communist by the other 499 students in Ida High School, but it did earn me points with the teacher, who I remember to be one to lean to the left.
When I first spoke up about my belief that it was wrong to censor the public’s opinions on the war, I had no idea that there would be such a fervent backlash from my classmates. The constant taunts of “commy” overwhelmed the small amount of silent praise I received from my teacher, rendering it inchoate. The controversy I faced over my contextually unpopular political opinion back in high school is very similar to the controversy that certain business organizations are finding themselves in the middle of because of their stances on Gay Rights. Most recently in the news, we have been hearing about Chick-fil-A and its Christian-based beliefs leading its CEO Dan Cathy to openly support “the traditional family.”
On August 1st of 2012, Chick-fil-A had record-breaking sales across the country, as other believers of the Bible and traditional family values wound circle queues around the restaurants as a part of “Support Chick-fil-A” day. At first this may seem like a good thing for Chick-fil-A—what company has qualms with record-breaking sales? However, by making the political statements that it has, Chick-fil-A is in danger of isolating a significant number of the chicken-eating population. The latest polls report that more than half the population of the U.S. citizenry is in support of gay marriage and equal rights. Further, it’s estimated that 10 percent of the entire population is a part of GLBT community. As a member of the community myself, I can say that, even if I wasn’t a vegetarian, I would certainly not patron a restaurant or business that is actively working to deny me and my loved ones equal rights. Doesn’t it make sense, then, that 50 percent of the population would think twice before choosing Chick-fil-A’s chicken over one of its competitors? Sure Chick-fil-A may have had a momentary spike in sales, but the long-term consequence is a permanent loss in clientele, and ultimately, money. Let’s face it—not every day can be “Support Chick-fil-A Day.” (Also, the more I have to type its name, the more I am beginning to despise it. Can I get some grammar here?)
And the case goes both ways. Department store chain, J.C. Penny, came under attack by right-wingers after featuring same-sex couples in their Mother’s and Father’s Day catalogues. One Million Moms, an organization of women devoted to upholding the aforementioned “traditional family values,” spearheaded a boycott of J.C. Penny stores. Other GLBT-friendly companies such as Starbucks, Target, and Macy’s were also boycotted by the group. Even though it’s a bit of a stretch to say that One Million Moms has one million members (based on the number of “likes” on their Facebook page, membership is less than 60,000), for these companies, those are several potential customers lost because of their public political stances. That does not include the many other organizations similar to One Million Moms and individuals who are opposed to equal rights for GLBT people.
Do I believe that companies should be entitled to their right to express controversial political opinions? Yes. Do I believe that it is economically smart or sound business practice? No. Not picking a side on controversial issues can protect companies from reprisal. For example: Popeyes Chicken, a competitor of Chick-fil-A, has not taken a stance on GLBT Rights, and consequently, will receive no loss of business. In fact, I imagine they should experience an increase, serving the former customers of Chick-fil-A whenever they have a craving for chicken that isn’t seasoned with politics.
Just as I should have been more conscious of voicing my liberal political viewpoint in my conservative high school, so should companies be conscious of the negative financial impacts and polarizing effects of doing the same. So, my advice to Chick-fil-A when it comes to making bold political statements is this: “Shut the cluck up.”
About the Issue
Point author: Shelby Hearn is a recent graduate of MSU with a degree in Professional Writing. A native New Yorker, she is spending her first post-college year working at a winery, teaching skiing, traveling, and exploring the world of writing.
Counterpoint author: Austin VanKirk is a senior at Michigan State University studying English and Professional Writing. He is previously published by The Offbeat and is currently revising his novel Under the Red, White, and Blue while continuing the elusive search for a publisher.
Edited by: Michael Guisinger, Carali Van Otteren, and Rachel Blanzy
Cover by: Lulu Tang