Nimble Lessons from #BoycottBarilla Pasta War

by Elena Putilina

Nimble Lessons from #BoycottBarilla Pasta WarWho would have thought that pasta category would become a war zone, but last week we witnessed just that. Last Wednesday, Barilla Chairman Guido Barilla told an Italian radio station that his company would never run an ad featuring a same-sex couple. Despite subsequent apologies from Barilla and its Chairman, consumers took offence and voiced their outrage across many social channels, including Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, with it’s dedicated Boycott Barilla page that amounts to more 6000+ supporters and still growing.

The #BoycottBarilla hashtag united a global consumer uproar, not only threatening Barilla’s brand equity, but also opening the door for comments on average product quality, and calls to action to switch to other brands of pasta. This, of course, invited competitors to jump in and fight for the newly created brand switchers and threaten Barilla’s 40-45% share of the Italian, and 25% share of the US pasta market (data from www.wikipedia.org)

The competition was clever and quick. An Italian company Pasta Garofalo came out with an ad that loosely translates ‘It doesn’t matter to us who you do it with, what matters is you do it al dente!’ and that slogan got reposted on Instagram.

Nimble Lessons from #BoycottBarilla Pasta War

Bertolli responded with a stunning and pointed ad that translates “pasta and love for all,” which was posted as a photo on Bertolli’s German Facebook page, and in 24 hours generated more than 4000 likes and over 3000 shares.

Time will tell how the pasta wars of last week impact Barilla, Bertolli, Garofalo and the category overall, but a few lessons in fast and innovative thinking can be drawn from these competitive responses. First, we can’t overlook the importance of social listening and competitive monitoring that allow brand builders to uncover opportunities, often unexpected. Second, to be able to quickly bring competitive response to life, companies need to establish and embed an alert and approval processes that would allow them to jump-start the creative development as soon as the opportunity is spotted, and ensure quick management and legal approvals upon completion. Lastly, a blueprint for the digital channel plan that ensures fast spreading of the message, has to be created and approved ahead of time, to allow fast communication while the topic is hot. How ready is your brand to put it’s competition in hot water?

image credit: l’amore/bertolli

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Elena PutilinaElena Putilina is a global marketing executive with experience growing megabrands like OREO, Tide and The Macallan. Elena’s expertise is in translating customer insight to cutting edge innovation and marketing plans utilizing both, traditional (TV, print, experiential, PR) and new (social, digital, viral) tools. Elena is currently a Vice President, Marketing Capability at Brand Learning, and a Marketing Mentor at ERA startup accelerator. Twitter: @lenaputilina

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