Chain’s BrandIndex consumer score falls to lowest level in two years
The national discussion surrounding Chick-fil-A’s support for what it calls a “biblical definition of the family unit,” or opposition to same-sex marriage, has taken a toll on the brand’s perception among American consumers, according to new research from market research firm YouGov BrandIndex.
The New York-based firm said that according to its research — which creates an index score based on consumers’ average ratings of perceptions for a brand’s buzz, quality, value and reputation — Chick-fil-A saw its ratings decline from well above quick-service competitors to well below, and to its lowest score in two years.
Chick-fil-A’s initial statements were included in a July 16 article by the Baptist Press. In that story, Chick-fil-A’s chief operating officer, Dan Cathy, affirmed that the company is “guilty as charged” of supporting the “biblical definition of the family unit,” meaning one man and one woman. Subsequent to the article, consumer and media discussions blanketed newspapers, social media and even late-night television. Nation’s Restaurant News collected much of the controversy last week.
“This will be bad for Chick-fil-A, and it’s hard to say for how long,” Ted Marzilli, senior vice president for BrandIndex, said. “The brand’s ratings for impression, reputation, satisfaction and respondents’ willingness to recommend are all down significantly.”
According to BrandIndex, Chick-fil-A’s index score sank from 64.9 out of 100 ahead of the controversy to 38.7 on July 25, or about 10 days following the media’s first pickup of the story. Chick-fil-A’s index score typically hovered nearly 20 points higher than the average index score for all the quick-service brands that BrandIndex tracks.
Marzilli noted that Chick-fil-A’s index score among consumers who self-identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, or LGBT, was a negative 52 out of 100 on July 26. BrandIndex calculates its index scores by surveying thousands of adult consumers each weekday and subtracting negative answers from positive ones, then calculating a moving average on a scale from negative 100 to positive 100. A zero score indicates completely neutral perceptions for a brand.
Atlanta-based Chick-fil-A is a privately held company, founded by S. Truett Cathy, who now serves as chairman. The chain boasts more than 1,600 restaurants in 39 states and tallied $4.1 billion in systemwide sales, according to its website. The brand has been widely known for its Christian heritage and closes all locations on Sundays.
Following Chick-fil-A’s July statements to the Baptist Press, criticism of the brand poured in to the chain’s Facebook and Twitter pages. On July 19, the company released a statement saying that its tradition was to “treat every person with honor, dignity and respect — regardless of their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender.”
“Going forward,” the statement read, “our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena.”
Politicians, however, did not leave Chick-fil-A out of the discussion. In a letter to Cathy dated July 20, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino wrote that “there is no place for discrimination on Boston’s Freedom Trail and no place for your company alongside it.”
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In Chicago, Alderman Joe Moreno moved to block Chick-fil-A from opening a location in the Logan Square neighborhood he represents. Mayor Rahm Emanuel supported the alderman, telling the Chicago Tribune, “Chick-fil-A values are not Chicago values.”
Other fallout included The Jim Henson Co.’s decision on July 20 to end a marketing partnership with the brand and no longer allow its Muppets character toys to be included in Chick-fil-A kids’ meals. Henson announced on its Facebook page that it will donate the payment it received from Chick-fil-A to the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.
Prominent figures also defended Cathy’s right to voice his beliefs as a leader of a private company. Former Arkansas governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee publicly called for Americans to support Chick-fil-A by eating at the restaurant Wednesday and making Aug. 1 “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day.”
“The goal is simple: Let’s affirm a business that operates on Christian principles and whose executives are willing to take a stand for the Godly values we espouse by simply showing up and eating at Chick-fil-A on Wednesday,” Huckabee wrote on his website. “Too often, those on the left make corporate statements to show support for same-sex marriage, abortion or profanity, but if Christians affirm traditional values, we’re considered homophobic, fundamentalists, hate-mongers and intolerant.
“This effort is not being launched by the Chick-fil-A company, and no one from the company or family is involved in proposing or promoting it.”
On his Facebook page, another former presidential candidate, Rick Santorum, urged fans to “fight for traditional families and eatat the same time” by participating in Huckabee’s event.
According to reports, last Friday, while campaigning for Senate candidate Ted Cruz in The Woodlands, Texas, former vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin elicited cheers from thousands of people by saying she and her aides would stop by Chick-fil-A on the way from the event back to the airport.
Marzilli noted that Chick-fil-A’s ratings among consumers for quality and value, which have nothing to do with the controversy over Cathy’s remarks, likely would recover much sooner than other brand-health metrics his firm tracks.
“It’s a no-win situation for Chick-fil-A to step into these political waters,” he said. “Cathy may be getting an unfair shake, and people are reading into what he said, but given the track record of suspicion for Chick-fil-A [from marriage-equality advocates] all along, he should have been more careful. It’s hard to separate yourself from the company you manage, so if you’re talking on CNBC or wherever, you have to be careful about what you say.”