Chick-fil-A may have irreparably damaged its relationship with a core constituency because of its same-sex marriage stance.
At least that's the opinion of Hayes Roth, chief marketing officer of Landon Associates, a global branding firm.
Roth believes Chick-fil-A President and Chief Operating Officer Dan Cathy's public assertion that the company was against same-sex marriage and instead believed in "the biblical definition of the family" went far beyond simply being a company based on Christian morals.
"I think he has disenfranchised a very vocal, very wealthy constituency, who will not patronize [Chick-fil-A] stores," Roth said. "I think it was a very unnecessary thing to do."
In the short term, Cathy's remarks have caused cities, businesses and celebrities to rebuke the polarizing remarks. Mayors in Boston and Chicago both stated Chick-fil-A didn't represent the values of their cities, while the Jim Henson Company, which supplied the chain's Kid's Meal toys, ended its relationship with the company.
The situation has forced the College Park, Ga.-based company's public relations team to be on the defensive, though the group suffered a major blow on Friday when the company's public relations director, Don Perry, tragically died of an apparent heart attack.
Perry's death could stop the media onslaught for the time being, but with a highly publicized Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day, organized by former president candidate Mike Huckabee, upcoming on Aug. 1, the public debate likely has many days left ahead.
Roth believes that the Aug. 1 event will appeal to the company's Christian constituency and could be seen by them as "making a brave stand." That mentality was certainly reflected in the comments of a recent International Business Times article on Chick-fil-A, entitled "Chick-fil-A Battles PR Nightmare of Same-Sex Marriage Stance."
All four comments posted on the story were in support of the fast food company, but a reader named Catherine Alexander seemed to truly embody what Roth mentioned.
At the end of a lengthy comment she wrote, "I plan to be one of thousands of Americans who will support Chick-fil-A on August 1 by eating not just one meal, but breakfast, lunch and dinner at the one in my neighborhood. I hope my gay neighbors join me."
Chick-fil-A has never hid its Christian roots and morals -- it closes on Sundays for that reason -- but it went far beyond that when Cathy vocalized his strong beliefs on the controversial topic. The company has slightly distanced itself by his comments with a statement that said it would like to leave the debate to the "government and political arena," but Roth believe the company needs to do more if it hopes to regain some of the community it has alienated.
He recommends a public statement from Cathy to say that his comments do not reflect the company's stance on same-sex marriage and apologize to all those that he has offended. Otherwise, if Cathy continues to be "muzzled" as he has been, it could compound the problem.
Without a public statement from Cathy, Roth believes that no matter how many cute cows it advertises to "Eat more chikin," the public won't forget or forgive -- that is, unless, Chick-fil-A advertises a gay cow.