Eataly Ignores Customer Complaints Over Offensive Ad Campaign

Posted: Jan 04, 2018

Forward by How can marketing impact the perceived image of a brand? This article discusses the impact Eataly's marketing campaign had on consumers.

Eataly bosses wouldn’t say earlier this week whether they’d had customer complaints about a holiday marketing campaign that suggests — among other things — that Italians smell bad.

It turns out they did but decided to ignore the problem on the advice of a public relations crisis company.

An internal email chain apparently forwarded in error to an angry customer by the upscale food market’s public relations and social media manager Sara Massarotto shows Eataly staff discussing how to handle the issue nearly two weeks before it blew up.


Lawyer Brittany Pape wrote to Eataly on Dec. 20, complaining that a wine ad displayed at the Chicago store that urged customers to “BRING HOME AN ITALIAN. GREAT LEGS, BETTER BODY” was “tone deaf” considering the sexual misconduct allegations against Eataly partner Mario Batali. Batali subsequently issued an apology, The New York Times reported.

Pape, who is of Italian descent (“My dog is called Cannoli,” she told Chicago Inc.), asked for the offensive ad to be removed, describing it in her emailed complaint as the kind of thing “said by Mario Batali at a work holiday party."

Three Eataly staffers then discussed, emails show, how to handle the complaint and whether they should respond to it before Massarotto concluded, in an email mistakenly copied to Pape, “We’ve discussed with our PR crisis agency and we shouldn’t take any action. Please keep the signs up and do NOT answer to the customer email.”

Pape, who lives in Chicago, said she never did get a response, even after she replied to everyone on the chain to let them know she’d been copied on the email by mistake. Massarotto also did not respond to questions about the gaffe from Chicago Inc. on Wednesday.

Some say an advertisement hanging in the window of an Eataly store in Chicago is offensive and a stereotype. (Lou Foglia / Chicago Tribune)
Massarotto on Tuesday had declined to answer multiple questions about another ad in the same Eataly campaign, which depicted a truffle and urged consumers to “BRING HOME AN ITALIAN, WORTH THE SMELL.”

That ad offended some Italian-Americans, who said it played on anti-immigrant stereotypes of the early 20th century. Louis Rago, president of the Italian American Human Relations Foundation of Chicago, said that whoever approved it should be fired for trading on an “offensive” and “negative image of Italians.”

Massaroto said in an email to the Tribune at the time that the ad “was a direct reference to the intense aromas of our prized truffles,” declining to address the sexual undertones of the campaign, or the implied insult to Italian hygiene.

By Kim Janssen
January 4, 2017

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