Paula Deen is a perfect case study in how to properly and successfully destroy your brand identity in less than 2 weeks. When celebrities get in trouble for various acts, Tiger Woods, Mel Gibson, and Alec Baldwin for example, they usually realize fairly quickly that the best option is to explain away their behavior, get some ‘help’ and resurrect their career down the road. Deen has continued to dig a hole for herself, first by obviously lying to the public, claiming in a deposition she said n***er all the time then claiming on the Today Show she only said it once. Then she has compounded things by playing the victim to the public, as opposed to feigning ignorance or seeking to make amends. But while much of the press attention has been on the sponsors and money that she has lost, it’s actually more interesting to see which sponsors she has not managed to lose despite this scandal.
Deen’s food empire is estimated to be worth about 17 million dollars, although a great deal of that money likely comes from her relationships with sponsors who have dropped her faster than a hot potato smothered in a quart of butter. The Food Network already announced her show will not be renewed, Sears, Home Depot and QVC have all dropped her as well. Some of Dean’s supporters will claim this is a witch-hunt or political correctness run amuck but that is just right wing nonsense probably induced by sugar shock from one of Paula’s pancake recipes. The harsh reality is that sponsors think long and hard before signing someone to promote their brand and they think long and hard about dropping them as well. Behind the scenes, corporations conduct their own investigations whenever charges are filed or a scandal erupts around a celebrity to determine if the scandal has any legs and will cause long term financial problems or it’s simply a 48 hour news story that people will forget about. Anyone who believes that a corporation as large as Wal-Mart would drop Paula Deen based purely on accusations doesn’t know much about business. But what does that say about the corporations that still support her?
The biggest name in the #StandWithPaula list is Alice Travel. A small travel agency based in New Jersey that book the cook for short cruises and has seen such an increase in requests to see the chef that they actually added a new cruise for 2014. This ultimately is not the surprising, when celebrities or well known people get taken down by their own terrible behavior there is always a lemmings-like rush by their supporters (and those bandwagon supporters) to come to their aid. This is especially the case in race or culture cases. Conservatives are always claiming an oppressed status, and flock to support anyone who they think is being attacked by the liberal PC gestapo (Notice how suddenly you had conservatives declaring their love for Chik-Fil-A in a tit for tat to the chain’s anti-gay backlash.) Other prominent supporters who are still on #TeamPaula include Landies Candies and of course Epicurean butter. I don’t blame these companies for staying with her, but the fact that these companies sent out statements in support of Paula Deen (as opposed to just quietly not dropping her in hopes that this blows over) speaks volumes about where those companies are compared to Home Depot, Wal-Mart and Sears. No one has ever heard of Alice Travel, most Americans aren’t necessarily familiar with Landies Candies, and Epicurean Butter is a specific brand of butter likely known only to foodies or fans of Deen. In other words, they have nothing to lose if they stick with Paula Deen because supporting her probably brings them more publicity than they could ever garner by dropping her.
Ultimately I could care less as whether Paula Deen is a racist, or a good person or what is in her likely highly strained heart. She was a terrible boss who allowed a hostile racial and sexual work environment to exist right under her nose and did nothing about. That’ll get you in trouble whether you’re Paula Deen or the night manager at a strip mall Applebee’s. And for most major corporations despite their own potentially shady management practices, they were smart enough to realize that being associated with a failing brand is not smart business. Those who stay with Paula aren’t major corporations, and they’ve realized that when nobody knows your name, all press is good press. And to be honest, I don’t blame them for that either.