Duck Dynasty star and patriarch, Phil Robertson (Duck Commander) is the subject of a media firestorm over comments he made about homosexuals in GQ Magazine. In his interview, Robertson uses lewd imagery to discuss why he doesn’t understand homosexuality, which he goes on to call it a sin and compare homosexuality to bestiality based upon his Christian beliefs. GLADD vehemently denounced Robertson’s comments as some of the vilest ever directed towards homosexuals. While the controversy has been focused on the remarks he made about homosexuals, he also made controversial comments about African Americans, saying the cotton farm workers he knew in Louisiana were “happy” with their jobs. A&E, the network that carries Duck Dynasty announced that it was suspending Robertson indefinitely over his remarks. This in turn has led to a massive reaction against A&E and in favor of Robertson. Social media is burning up with tweets and Facebook posts defending Robertson. Sarah Palin, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, and even Geraldo Rivera have come to his defense. So can the Duck Dynasty brand survive? How has Robertson handled his crisis communications efforts?
The answer to the first question is obvious. Of course the Duck Dynasty brand will survive and will actually flourish as a result of this controversy. Some will say, Paula Deen was caught admitting using the ‘n’ word over twenty years ago and her brand has been damaged severely, why the difference. The difference is that Deen’s brand was built around her persona of being a sweet grandmotherly personality her use of the ‘n’ word didn’t go with that image and her crisis communications efforts were abysmal.
Robertson and the Duck Dynasty brand have never pretended to be politically correct. Part of their appeal and brand identity has been built around their authenticity and saying what is on their mind. Even more so much of their appeal has been their strong Christian faith that appeals to a large number of their fans. In that aspect, Robertson’s remarks and his explanation reinforce that branding. Fans of Duck Dynasty fit into a more conservative outlook and are apt to agree with Robertson. Beyond that many of the shows fans will sympathize with Robertson believing that it was his first amendment right to say what he believes. Overall, the Duck Dynasty brand has strengthened their ties with their existing fans.
Beyond that, people who have never watched Duck Dynasty will probably tune into the show to find out what all the controversy is about that the media is reporting. Not all of these new viewers will stay but some will and become Duck Dynasty fans. So overall the brand comes out ahead earning itself millions in free publicity.
Robertson’s crisis communications efforts have been good so far. He released a brief statement that reaffirmed his Christian belief while stating he would never disrespect anyone. Beyond that he has been quiet and done no embarrassing YouTube videos apologizing nor attacked either his critics or A&E. His cast members (as would be expected since they are family members) are all supportive of him. His fans are vocal on social media and are petitioning A&E to drop his suspension. He has prominent supporters who appeal to his brand’s demographics supporting him. Next he needs to do a media interview with Oprah or perhaps Barbara Walters and address the issue and then continue his silence.
Despite the media firestorm, the Duck Dynasty brand and Phil Robertson are probably stronger as a result of this controversy. Robertson played to his authenticity branding that appeals to his fans and reinforced that appeal. His crisis response has avoided the pitfall that we often see in which the crisis response becomes the story (see Paula Deen and Lululemon). This is living proof that in the 24/7 media cycle and social media world that we live in, at times a crisis can be the best thing to happen to a brand.