There is no greater land mine when it comes to personal brand, image and reputation than the simple opening of one’s mouth and uttering a collection of sounds.
And there is also no greater strategic marketing and PR ploy. It depends which side of the controversy you’re sitting on, and whether or not you really care what anyone thinks.
This is not about condoning or vilifying the core of this story. It is about an excellent lesson in branding, image and reputation for an individual and a corporation.
“Duck Dynasty” has to rank as one of the most unexpected television hits off all-time. A semi-wealthy family of what can be termed “real Americans” by some, or the term that is derogatory to some and embraced by others, “rednecks”. Take your pick. They have turned the manufacture of hunting duck calls into a multi-million dollar broadcast and marketing industry. Kudos to them for nailing the American dream.
But with great celebrity status comes even greater scrutiny. Everything you say, do, touch, intimate and raise an eyebrow to is raked over the 24/7 media coals. People can’t get enough of mindless entertainment, and if you’re part of their daily lives, your brand is susceptible to untold levels of success and incredible depths of collapse in the same instance.
Phil Robertson is the patriarch of the “DD” clan, an older and perhaps less refined gentlemen to some. To others, he is the personification of “real America”. This isn’t about your personal opinion of him. It’s about his opinion of himself, how he wants to be seen, and whether or not he’s a brilliant marketer or just another yokel who screwed the golden bank account by opening his mouth.
In an interview with “GQ” magazine, Robertson made several explosive comments about homosexuals and alternative lifestyles. When the transcript broke, A&E, the network carrying his show, had no recourse but to suspend Robertson, issue more than a few harsh statements about his comments, apologize profusely, and wait for the viewer/sponsor fallout.
Naturally, we were treated to millions of posts and tweets from people expressing both their shock and support.
I have no doubt they are sincere in seeking to minimize the damage. “DD” makes them a fortune from sponsors and marketing paraphernalia. They need to insure that viewing public doesn’t abandon them for another fake-reality show. Their apologies and punitive actions against Robertson were prudent and had to be taken.
Let’s deal in a few obvious facts here, and bring them all into the focus of personal and corporate branding.
Robertson is a millionaire several times over, lives a comfortable life, and thanks to A&E rules over a family that with a minimum of good financial management will never have to work another day in their lives. Even if the A&E contract is heavily in their favor, which I suspect it is as most of these reality show deals are, the clan has made a few fortunes thanks to the show. If it goes away tomorrow, they’ll miss being “stars”, but money will never be an issue.
Robertson is a religious man who does not believe in alternative lifestyles of the LGBT community, and he doesn’t care who knows it. He’s comfortable in his own camouflage skin, and is projecting the image HE wants for himself. He doesn’t care if you like it or not. It’s the brand he wants for himself, and he’s willing to suffer the consequences and reap the rewards. He is honest to himself, and in the end it’s what every person of any persuasion must be comfortable in doing.
The Internet is chock full of videos featuring Robertson professing his faith, an honest firebrand when it comes to his devotion. A&E knew all about it, and I’m certain saw this video and hundreds more like it. The fact Robertson is a hard-core believer in his Faith and isn’t afraid to speak out about it anytime, anywhere does not come as a shock to those who run the network.
A&E owns the rights to “DD”, everything from that first frame of video to the last key fob with the logo on it. They have made several fortunes from the franchise, and I will guarantee you they know everything possible about the family, their attitudes, their opinions and personal beliefs. It’s owned by the Disney and Hearst Corporations, and this isn’t their first programming rodeo. They knew what they were getting into with this family, and were ready for just such an emergency.
Wait. Was this an emergency or a marketing ploy that would play to the demographics they most covet? Think about it for a moment.
While there is no doubt the words were insulting to a large group of people, rest assured they also spoke in a positive manner to others. It’s just basic human nature. Right or wrong. And at the end of the day, there is only one thing A&E cares about when it comes to “Duck Dynasty”.
Ratings. Money. Profit.
While Robertson was “suspended”from the show, the 4th season had already wrapped. The show will air and it will garner ratings. I’ll be shocked to see it suffer much, if at all. That’s because Robertson and his family play to a certain demographic that has made the show a hit. And believe me, those in positions of power believe the majority of that demo will side with Robertson. And now that entire 4th season comes loaded with a new marketing ploy. “WATCH THE MAN WHO WENT OFF THE RAILS AND INSULTED A NATION” it might go. All part of the marketing machine.
Suspending him and apologizing was the proper thing to do, but how sincere was it? There’s the real question. A&E understands they may lose a few tenths of ratings points in the short term, but long term this is a blip on the radar screen.
“DD” won’t last forever. It will burn itself out, and when it does, everyone will have made a fortune. Or two. Or maybe three.
And can we believe A&E had absolutely no knowledge whatsoever that Robertson had taken part in the “GQ”interview? Contracts for such shows have lots of language baout what a performer may and may not do with and without permission. He seems like the type to go “rogue”, but we all know this is anything but reality.
Bottom line: Robertson spoke to his own beliefs. He didn’t (knowingly or as some part of the marketing plan) hide anything. And he is comfortable with his reputation. It’s something I always stress to clients and seminars. HOWEVER, you must also be prepared for the consequences. If you are, then go for it. It is, after all, your life.
And note where GLAAD was very happy A&E took immediate steps. Of course they did. Those steps protect their corporate brand, their entire programming roster, and their sponsorship contracts. A proper public show to protect their brand.
Did they know it was coming? You be the judge.
Oh, and one more thing. I always teach that when you do something wrong, something you truly need to back up on, you apologize. A lot. As often as possible. And don’t wait.
Notice how A&E apologized, but Robertson did not? He’s happy with his brand. At the moment. I suspect A&E will either ask or demand he retract or glaze over his comments to save face. Not his, but that of the franchise.
If you load the land mine with your brand, then never be afraid to detonate it. IF that’s how you want to be known.
YOU are not Phil Robertson. Learn from this. Understand your verbal actions have consequences, positive and negative. He will recover with nary a scratch. You, however, would likely find yourself shoveling duck droppings.
‘Duck Dynasty’s’ Phil Robertson on Indefinite Hiatus Following Anti-Gay Remarks
UPDATED: The news comes after the reality star compared being gay to bestiality, drawing ire from LGBT groups including GLAAD and the Human Rights Campaign.
“We are extremely disappointed to have read Phil Robertson’s comments in GQ, which are based on his own personal beliefs and are not reflected in the series Duck Dynasty,” A&E said in a statement. “His personal views in no way reflect those of A+E Networks, who have always been strong supporters and champions of the LGBT community. The network has placed Phil under hiatus from filming indefinitely.”
The news comes after Robertson compared homosexuality to bestiality in an interview with the magazine. He’ll likely appear in season four, which bows Jan. 15, since production is largely wrapped.
“It seems like, to me, a vagina — as a man — would be more desirable than a man’s anus,” Robertson says in the January issue of the men’s magazine. “That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.”
During a discussion about repentance and God, Robertson is asked what he finds sinful.
“Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there,” he says. “Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men.”
He goes on to paraphrase Corinthians: “Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers — they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”
GLAAD on Wednesday condemned his remarks as “some of the vilest and most extreme statements uttered against LGBT people in a mainstream publication” and said “his quote was littered with outdated stereotypes and blatant misinformation.”
“Phil and his family claim to be Christian, but Phil’s lies about an entire community fly in the face of what true Christians believe,” GLAAD spokesperson Wilson Cruz said. “He clearly knows nothing about gay people or the majority of Louisianans — and Americans — who support legal recognition for loving and committed gay and lesbian couples. Phil’s decision to push vile and extreme stereotypes is a stain on A&E and his sponsors, who now need to re-examine their ties to someone with such public disdain for LGBT people and families.”
GLAAD responded to A&E’s suspension, commending the network for its swift decision. “What’s clear is that such hateful anti-gay comments are unacceptable to fans, viewers, and networks alike,” GLAAD’s Cruz said late Wednesday. “By taking quick action and removing Robertson from future filming, A&E has sent a strong message that discrimination is neither a Christian nor an American value.”