By now, we’ve heard and talked about Phil Robertson’s extremely controversial anti-gay comments in a media interview. Seriously, anyone who has followed this show as well as the programming heads at A&E had to know it was only a matter of time before Phil uttered the kind of hardcore statement that would upset a whole lot of people for good reason.
Do I think Willie Robertson would have said anything along the lines of what his father said? Absolutely not. I think as CEO, Willie will believe whatever he wants but also understands he has an ever-growing brand to protect in front of the media. He’s always understood the massive potential and growth of Duck Commander and its properties, taking the brand to a level that his father never could have dreamed of.
It’s partially for this reason that I believe the Duck Commander brand, along with the show “Duck Dynasty,” will be just fine. Here’s why.
First, remember that Duck Commander and Buck Commander cater to a very specific and loyal audience of people who use their products. Oh, they’re not going to use a duck call because they don’t agree with Phil Robertson’s views? Sorry. Don’t buy it. I don’t agree with Phil, of course, but I don’t buy the brand suffers among outdoor enthusiasts who were very much on board with this brand long before “Duck Dynasty” the show came along. There are legions of supporters who have hunting videos featuring Phil, Willie, Jase and the rest of them. They’re not changing their spending habits now. If anything, some of them will buy even more Duck Commander products – because regardless of whether they actually agree with Phil, they see him as a hunting patriarch. No way they walk away from that. Those roots run deep.
By the way, this includes not only buyers but retailers. I don’t see outdoor retailers or the biggest retailer of all, Walmart, stepping away from Duck Commander either. Sure, there may be protests by those who want to see DC pulled from the shelves but it’s not happening. The franchise is just too lucrative and the following is deep. You may appease one group but will enrage another. And in the end, money is what talks here, even if what Phil Robertson is talking is offensive.
Secondly, the show is going to continue to cater to a loyal audience as well. That audience isn’t going to completely evaporate. In our Kardashian-Teen Mom-Honey Boo Boo culture, there’s a group of people that are going to follow the Robertsons to whatever network they land on next. Book it right now. If the family leaves A&E, there’s going to be an audience for them elsewhere and if it’s any kind of mainstream station, it’s going to be a big one.
So the brand of Duck Commander and Buck Commander will be very much intact. So will “Duck Dynasty.”
What’s interesting to me, however, is that people think the 1st Amendment entitles one to say whatever they like without fear of consequence from an employer. Ah, what a blissful, naive existence such people lead.
I suppose NFL and NBA players never say anything controversial in the way busting out a tweet without getting fined by the people they work for. And most of the time, they’re talking about something that actually applied to their profession. Yeah. When you’re ripping apart a referee or saying how you hate the Commissioner, the whole 1st Amendment argument doesn’t go too far with David Stern or Roger Goodell.
See, what some leaders under a brand don’t understand, whether it’s Phil Robertson or Chick-Fil-A’s Dan Cathy, is that their brand has become so successful that, ironically, it’s actually much bigger than them or any one person. So when they make themselves the story rather than their brand, they’re doing a disservice to what they built. They’re making their negative comments against a group based on sexual orientation, race, religion, etc. the story that is connected to their brand. Even if it’s just for 24-48 hours, is that what you want people to think about first and foremost? Your stance against certain people instead of your product, your program, your brand?
In the end, life moves on, even in temporary crisis. We get over our hatred. We eat a chicken sandwich because we’re hungry, not because we agree with the CEO. We watch Duck Dynasty because those guys look nuts and we care less about the out-of-touch-views of one of their family members. They may be reality stars but they’re about as far removed from our reality as can be, even though they technically live in the same planet.
Because of this, right or wrong, there will be a place for these brands even though there is no place for the hateful commentary produced from one of their people. But let’s be clear about something – there’s such a thing as having media savvy and holding the people who appear in the media accountable for how they act and what they say. When Phil gives an interview in a magazine, he’s representing A&E. When Dale Earnhardt Jr. appears on television, he’s representing Mountain Dew. They’re linked, not independent of each other.
That’s why I think Phil Robertson will come back to the table with an apology so that the show can continue and A&E can keep its #1 money maker because in the end, the network doesn’t want to lose the show.
Strong brands can overcome a misstep or two – and for the Robertsons, this is one of them. But when you’ve built up a lot of goodwill along the way, it stands a good chance of helping you weather the storm of your own error.
As long as, of course, you have the good sense to recognize and acknowledge it sooner rather than later.