"Biscuits and Crazy": Paula Deen's brand roasting
She has been called the most dangerous woman in America, a paid shill for factory-farming, and, more recently, a racist. When Martha Stewart says she feels sorry for you, it’s time to leave the dinner table.
The scandal over Deen’s admission to using racial slurs and accusations of unequal treatment of black employees who helped build her business has led to the collapse of a $16 million Southern-fried empire. The rambling, tearful apologies—what Gawker has called “biscuits and crazy”—only hastened the loss of contracts as marketing partners sought to distance themselves from the hot mess.
And now we read that Novo Nordisk has suspended its relationship with Deen, a partnership that was questionable from the start.
For years Deen hid her own diabetes while promoting outrageously unhealthy food (deep-fried cheesecake, bacon-egg-and cheeseburger between glazed donuts, Twinkie pie, fried butter balls, lasagna hoagie). She seemed like the worst spokeswoman for the pharmaceutical giant, whose diabetes medication, Victoza, suffers serious branding challenges of its own. As Pharmalot’s Ed Silverman blasted, “Novo Nordisk showed poor judgment in selecting a spokesperson whose public behavior and business strategy contradicts the eating habits needed to combat the disease.”
Here, then, are four brand-building takeaways:
1. Big Brands Don’t Cry: No one wants to see a millionaire weep. Business partners and consumers appreciate honesty and a company’s willingness to own a mistake and learn from it.
2. Walk the Talk: The world is weary of weasels. A company’s actions must match its words. Bloomberg Businessweek calls trust “the most perishable of assets” that, once lost, can’t be recreated by marketing magic.
3. Stay Relevant: A brand needs to understand and adapt to cultural shifts in order to stay top of mind and relatable. That call is not answered by “I is what I is.”
4. Mama June Sez, Don’t Wing It: When it comes to protecting your brand’s identity, surround yourself with PR professionals to advise you on messaging, anticipating outcomes and crisis management.