Goya-Gate: Passikoff on Brands and Politics

… then things went horriblemente desgastada para la marca or “horribly wrong for the brand …

Because, when it comes to involving your brand in politics, the surveys all say, “It isn’t worth a hill of beans!”

It was Robert of Gloucester (an historian, not an economist or market researcher) who originated the phrase “not worth a bean.” in 1297. The phrase spread from there. The meaning’s root source (no pun intended) was the fact that beans were extremely easy to grow, and thus became the term used to indicate something of trifling value.

By Robert Passikoff

The American saying, “not worth a hill of beans,” first appeared in 1863. The “hill” part grew (no, that pun was intended) from a common method used in American home gardens to plant beans, not in rows, but in little mounds of soil, i.e., the “hill.” Consequently, in colloquial American, the phrase “isn’t worth a hill of beans” became the epitome of worthlessness. What English majors would call a classic example of “expansive hyperbole.”

Now, “What does a classic example of expansive hyperbole have to do with me and my brand?” I hear you ask. And that’s a fair question. It was the recent Goya debacle at the White House that brought the axiom to mind. Because, when it comes to involving your brand in politics, the surveys all say, “It isn’t worth a hill of beans!”

It transpired that Robert Unanue, CEO of Goya, appeared at the White House for the rollout of an initiative related to an executive order pledging better education and employment access for Hispanics. So far, mostly harmless as far as the Goya brand was concerned. Then things went horriblemente desgastada para la marca or “horribly wrong for the brand.”

What happened? Well, Mr. Unanue publicly extolled President Trump saying, “We’re all truly blessed at the same time to have a leader like President Trump.” And that’s when things went horribly wrong for the Goya brand.

You probably didn’t know the name Robert Unanue. But you did know the Goya brand. It’s synonymous with Hispanic food products and is the nation’s largest Hispanic food company. Goya has long been a staple brand in the Latino community and in an instant Mr. Unanue’s toadying became inexorably linked to the brand, and the brand became an anathema to a significant portion of its customer base.

Here’s one brand axiom you should eternally follow: embroiling your brand in politics isn’t worth a hill of beans. It’s wrong in so many ways, it’s hard to explain without charts and a flashlight! If you do, it’s always a lose-lose situation. Not sometimes. Not often. Always!

Research has shown consumer brands are – or should be – apolitical. I’m talking politics, not Corporate Social Responsibility. There’s a difference. You don’t have to be a Democrat or Republican to like saźon con azafran or the concept of sustainability. But these days, the minute you have the brand take a political stand, one group of consumers or another is going to hate you. Not sometimes. Not often. Always!

A large segment of Goya’s customers are Latino and I’m willing to bet that Goya products appear on virtually every shelf of every bodega in the United States. At least until Mr. Unanue – as ostensible spokesperson-of-that-moment for the Goya brand – felt the need politically genuflect to Mr. Trump.

In Latino households across the country many consumers found the praise reprehensible, particularly given Trump’s rhetoric and immigration policies, which have been labeled by some as “racist.” Consumers threw out Goya products, stopped buying Goya products, and found substitutes for Goya products, which became a symbol of political resistance. Some critics asked whether Mr. Unanue really considers himself a Latino. Wow! You don’t go much more horribly wrong than having people question your heritage! But in fairness, that was only one side of the political consequences.

In support of the brand, Trump loyalists went out and bought as much Goya products as they could. In some cases, whether they knew what maiz trillado Amarillo or recaito or cocido actually was! Mr. Trump took a “thumbs-up” picture of himself in the Oval Office with an array of Goya products on the Resolute desk. Ivanka Trump Instagrammed her picture holding a can of Goya beans. Ted Cruz tweeted, “Goya is a staple of Cuban food. My grandparents ate Goya black beans twice a day for nearly 90 years. And now the Left is trying to cancel Hispanic culture and silence free speech #buyGoya.” (Apparently Cruz really, really likes Goya because he didn’t feel the need to tweet anything when Trump called his wife, Heidi, a dog or accused Cruz’s father of complicity in the Kennedy assassination. Just saying. And another example of tweet de-valuation.) Other consumers bought products and donated them to food banks.

Trump touts Goya brand

But here’s what decades of research has shown and what we’ve always advised: if you’re a CEO, support whichever party you want. That’s the American way. Just leave your brand out of it. Contribute discreetly to whichever party you want. Or both parties. Just leave your brand out of it. K Street in Washington, DC is full of lobbyists more than willing to take your money and support any cause, party, or politician you want. Just leave your brand out of it.

I’ve been doing research related to marketing and brand loyalty for a long time and I’ve never, ever run across any consumer brand value-set or KPI list that includes politically ideological items. When CEOs intentionally or accidentally draw the brand into the political arena, it never ends well for the brand in the marketing arena. And in this instance, the truly vehement reaction toward the Goya brand by customers, and – what research has also proven is going to end up being short-term, political knee-jerk support – which is proof that involving your brand in politics isn’t worth a hill of beans.

Although in this instance it may not end up being expansive hyperbole. For the Goya brand, enmeshing the brand in politics may end up literally being worth several hills of beans!

Robert PassikoffRobert Passikoff is founder and CEO of Brand Keys. He has received several awards for market research innovation including the prestigious Gold Ogilvy Award and is the author of 3 marketing and branding books including the best-seller, Predicting Market Success.  Robert is also a frequent contributor to, and guest of TheCustomer.



  1. Not too clever. Bad enough to take a stand on things that have been politicized, but anyone could have predicted that a consumers of a brand that primarily appeals to Hispanics would object to tying it to Trump. I would not want to count on this being short term.

    1. Sorry you feel that way, Leslie. And sorry to say, you’re wrong. If “anyone could have predicted that a consumer of a brand that primarily appeals to Hispanics would object to trying it to Trump,” why did the CEO of Goya do just that! Apparently neither he nor you had seen the extensive research on the dangers of combining (consumer) brands and politics! But thanks for reading.

  2. Robert you’re on a roll with last week’s fable and the history lesson today. This reminds me of the great brand mastermind Michael Jordan who, when asked why he didn’t support African American candidate Harvey Gantt in an election over the (generally viewed as a racist) Jesse Helms, famously responded that “Republicans buy shoes too.”

    Also, I agree with your assessment that politics and corporate social responsibility are not the same things, especially with respect to customer loyalty. CSR, when aligned with customers views, reflects a brand’s loyalty to its customers and their values, as opposed to their politics.

    1. Phil, thanks so much. Too bad more CEOs don’t realize that! If CEOs want to support someone or some thing, they should do it a continent away from their brand! Be well and safe.

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