When brands promote a culture of bigotry
Recent comments by reality TV star Phil Robertson have provided yet another opportunity for Americans to learn what is and isn’t protected by the First Amendment, among other things. Here’s what he said:
On vagina and anal sex:
“It seems like, to me, a vagina—as a man—would be more desirable than a man’s anus. That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.”
On “blacks” of pre-civil-rights-era Louisiana:
They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’—not a word!… Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”
[What The Duck? – GQ Magazine – Jan. 2014]
Duck Dynasty’s host A&E promptly suspended Robertson who has made far worse comments. Whether you share his beliefs or not, most people reading this post understand the Constitution protects our choice of speech from government actions, not the consequences from private citizens. That fact hasn’t stopped a contrary perception from being the perennially memetic teaching moment it has become.
Yes America, if it is not obvious, you have the right to be a moron. What is new is how some corporate brands have been willing to embrace and promote bad messages out of a belief they are standing up for the United States Constitution or large groups of customers. The latest example is Tennessee-based Cracker Barrel.
“You told us we made a mistake. And, you weren’t shy about it. You wrote, you called and you took to social media to express your thoughts and feelings. You flat out told us we were wrong. We listened. Today, we are putting all our Duck Dynasty products back in our stores. And, we apologize for offending you.”
By pledging to keep Duck Dynasty products on their shelves, Cracker Barrel has chosen to use their brand to amplify a culture of bigotry. By further issuing an apology to angry customers who support Robertson’s comments, Cracker Barrel’s actions invested their entire brand into the content of Robertson’s character.
BRAND PROBLEM: The temptation brands have to resist in deciding whether to take sides on the social issues of customers nowadays is assuming the loudness of one message or another is somehow a measure of its morality or the justness of its cause. Another temptation brands have to resist is thinking customers are a monolithic “you” who share beliefs instead of sharing values.
BRAND SOLUTION: Most every successful American brand has a mission statement and expressed values that nearly always reflects the ideas of the kind of America we all want to see. No one would fault a company for choosing to echo their more established values over the angry noise of America working out what it believes along the way.
It’s too bad some brands find themselves with a calibre of leadership that doesn’t simply adhere to the wisdom and values of their own carefully crafted mission statements, but now that corporations are starting to act more like people it’s getting easier to discover just what kind of people they want us to know they are.
UPDATE 12-27-13: Well, that suspension lasted all of zero episodes. Phil Robertson is back on A&E resonating with ad dollars and America’s heart. Here’s A&E explaining why they changed their minds.
“But Duck Dynasty is not a show about one man’s views. It resonates with a large audience because it is a show about family … a family that America has come to love.”
[A&E Welcomes Phil Robertson Back to ‘Duck Dynasty’ – The Hollywood Reporter – 12-27-13]