The A&E Network announced last week that they were lifting their suspension of Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson and bringing him back less than a week after suspending him for remarks he made in GQ in regards to homosexuals and African-Americans (as I had predicted they would).
One could hear echoes of Claude Rains’ famous quote in Casablanca of, "I am shocked, shocked, shocked that gambling is going on," (after pocketing his winnings) with the announcement.
Nobody is shocked. The decision was inevitable. Duck Dynasty is the network’s number one rated show and in many ways there is no network without Duck Dynasty.
This crisis showed totally the power of social media. Social media shapes narratives. The online petitions calling for A&E to reinstate Robertson had their affect.
Social media empowers the consumer like never before forcing companies to react as we saw with Cracker Barrel when they were going to remove Duck Dynasty merchandise and then backed down when fans went on social media attacking the decision, and now with A&E’s decision.
Social media also drives traditional media. The outpouring of support we saw for Robertson made this a bigger media story than it would normally have been. Companies that ignore consumer reaction on social media do so at their own risk.
The controversy has actually strengthened the Duck Dynasty brand. It reinforced the branding that has been forged of Robertson and Duck Dynasty as being authentic, Christian, and true to their beliefs with their fans. It introduced the brand to new audiences who sympathized with Robertson’s plight.
It is why Robertson could weather the controversy unlike Paula Deen. Robertson’s crisis reinforced his image that had been branded over time so fans saw no reason for the controversy while Deen’s crisis this past summer went against her image.
Effective crisis communications was also in play during the past week. Robertson issued a brief statement reaffirming his beliefs and that he did not personally disrespect anyone and then went silent. His family who are also his fellow cast members supported him and then went quiet, sponsors stood by him, leaving politicians and fans to carry the fight to A&E. This was excellent crisis communications strategy and implementation.
So the crisis is over. Duck Dynasty is bigger and stronger than before.
GQ is a major winner as more people will be purchasing the January issue of the magazine to see what the controversy was about than would have had nothing happened. A&E is a ratings winner with more people aware of the network than were previously.
And finally, fans feel empowered because they affected a decision and made a corporate giant back down.
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David E. Johnson is the CEO of Strategic Vision, LLC, a public relations agency, that specializes in branding, crisis communications, and media placements. Additional information on him and Strategic Vision, LLC may be obtained at www.strategicvision.biz.