Papa John’s founder John Schnatter has stepped in it, opening him and his company up to a barrage of criticism for something more than what it claims to be pizza.
Schnatter has claimed that sales at his stores have been hurt by the ongoing issues with the NFL around players kneeling during the National Anthem, something they’re doing to protest police violence in African-American communities. He seems to be saying that because public opinion of the NFL has become so sharply divided about not just the protests but the NFL as a whole, his business is being dragged down. The owners, then, need to clean up this mess before it does more damage to one of the league’s premiere sponsors.
Those claims aren’t as ridiculous as they might appear. Other pizza chains who aren’t as closely tied to professional football say they’re doing just fine, thank you very much. Even frozen pizza brands are using this moment to crow about their continued success.
Like it or not, we’re in a world where brands have opinions on social and political opinions. That’s what 87% of consumers want according to a recent study, with 75% saying they’re less likely to buy from a brand or company that takes a social stand they disagree with.
Putting aside the specifics of the arguments for or against the player’s on-field protests, as well as the political theater that’s often accompanied them (which has contributed to that divisiveness) this is the new reality. If you run afoul of the beliefs of consumers in the marketplace, you put the health of your business at risk.
That’s a whole new field crisis communications that has suddenly opened up. It’s no longer just about the traditional issues that often impact corporate reputations – manufacturing problems, workplace issues, executive malfeasance – but about where your brand stands politically. Take an unpopular opinion, and you’ve got some explaining to do.
What will be interesting to watch is how the business world evolves in the next 15-20 years as a new generation, the people who today are saying corporations need to get on the right side of history, come to take on the reins of power in those and other businesses. Will their values and attitudes remain intact and usher in a new era of liberal corporate responsibility to society?
Right now the current generation of corporate leadership wants NFL owners to get their employees in line. Or they’re shutting down news organizations that have tweaked them in the past, either by executive fiat or through the legal system. Even Silicon Valley’s wunderkinds are more entranced by the almighty dollar than any sense they’re responsible for the maintenance and sustainability of democracy.
Whether or not there’s a sea change in corporate executive worldviews as young people age and mature in the business world, those in charge would do well to pay more attention to the attitudes of their consumer base. It seems young people are ready and willing to punish your business for the beliefs of ownership and management and eventually that’s going to have to result in a change in practices. At the very least, it’s something corporate communicators are going to have to begin dealing with on a more regular basis.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.