Chick-fil-A is celebrating the longevity of its brand, despite a tough new year filled with protests waged by gay activists, with its Cow Appreciation Day Friday.
Despite a difficult start to the year, the Atlanta-based fast food chain is still finding reasons to be happy with a nationwide celebration of its trademark cows.
Chick-fil-A is bidding customers to don black-spotted scarves, hats, ties or any other accessories today for its 7th annual Cow Appreciation Day. In return, customers will receive a complimentary meal featuring an entree of their choice, a side item and a medium beverage.
The day is a great way to usher in the weekend. It is also a great way to show critics that despite grassroots petitions and boycotts, Chick-fil-A is here to stay.
"Cow Appreciation Day is a great barometer of how passionate our customers are for our brand," said Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A's senior vice president of marketing, in a statement.
With the help of its "Eat Mor Chikin" cows campaign, Chick-fil-A was recognized in 2010 as one of the top "Marketers of the Year" by Advertising Age, and as one of J.D. Power and Associates' "Top Restaurant Brands in Customer Satisfaction."
The chain also reported system-wide sales of more than $3.5 billion, an 11.37 percent increase over the chain's 2009 overall sales performance.
In January 2011, angry gay blogs and petitions threatened to overshadow the franchise's successes.
Chick-fil-A has long been known as a company founded and run by the Southern Baptist Cathy family. However, the controversy began when websites such as Change.org and Good As You began criticizing its involvement with conservative Christian organizations such as Focus on the Family and the Pennsylvania Family Institute.
These groups are strong supporters of traditional marriage as is the Cathys' WinShape Foundation.
Good As You (GAY), a blog catering to the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning community, publicized a PFI flyer for a February marriage seminar entitled The Art of Marriage: Getting to the Heart of God's Design. The flyer showed a co-sponsorship with Chick-fil-A.
GAY's website noted, "Bottom line: If you're binding your cash with this fast food restaurant's fowl, you're in some way giving resources to those who hope to foul Keystone State gays' marriage plans. Plan your fried carnivorousness accordingly."
Change.org editor Michael Jones also launched an online petition to boycott the restaurant.
Michael Geer, president of the Pennsylvania Family Institute, tried to set the record straight, stating that Chick-fil-A is not sponsoring the event.
"There are a couple [local] restaurants that are giving us food," he told The Christian Post. Geer did not mention whether or not PFI mistakenly listed the co-sponsorship with Chick-fil-A.
Chick-fil-A also released two statements clarifying that it never endorsed PFI's seminar.
"Providing food to this event or any event is not an endorsement of the mission, political stance or motives of this or any other organization," wrote Dan T. Cathy, the company's president, on Facebook.
However, the petitions and protests had already took hold.
The Change.org petition had garnered over 25,000 signatures by February 1. In late January, a student movement led Indiana University to cut the chain from its list of retailers. The university later reinstated Chick-fil-A, noting that it had not done anything to violate the university's vendor policy.
In the midst of the snowballing outrage against the company for its ties to conservative groups, Christian, pro-family leaders began standing up for Chick-fil-A.
FOTF President Jim Daly denounced efforts to demonize the chain for supporting traditional principles.
"To bully corporate America in this manner is unsavory and in this instance, counterproductive," he wrote in a blog.
The protests were indeed counterproductive because polls show customers favor companies with Christian, family-friendly business practices.
A Barna poll released this year shows that while most consumers (51 percent) are indifferent to a company's practices, 43 percent of American adults say they would be open to buying a particular brand if they knew the company was run based on Christian principles.
In fact, conservative group American Family Association rallied supporters to patronize Chick-fil-A with notes to Cathy, applauding him for his efforts to groom strong marriages, families, and youth through its partnerships and practices.
Group Young Conservative Muchachos even launched an effort to send the chain's chicken sandwiches to the Change.Org's headquarters. The sandwiches were purchased with donations from Chick-fil-A supporters.
Chick-fil-A Cow Appreciation Day is meant, among other things, to reward its most loyal fans who have kept the company afloat.
"If you're willing to dress up like a cow for a free meal, you're obviously a loyal and even 'raving' Chick-fil-A fan," said Robinson.
Chick-fil-A plans to add 90 new locations, including 71 stand-alone locations, four mall/in-line restaurants and 15 licensed outlets, to its restaurant portfolio this year.