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9 Marketing Lessons from Duck Dynasty

December 23, 2013
Duck dynasty

Photo courtesy of Mike Mozart

I’m always a bit skeptical of people who worry so much about consensual acts that take place in the bedrooms of other people. You have to wonder what they’re covering up.

Time will tell on that issue… For now, let’s talk marketing!

After being on the air for only 20 months, “Duck Dynasty” has become a cultural phenomenon. It’s also a marketing phenomenon, taking both merchandising and audience engagement to new levels.

Will Phil Robertson’s recent comments on homosexuality derail this reality television cash cow? Is this “controversy” actually helping the show? More importantly, what can your business learn from “Duck Dynasty”?

9 Marketing Lessons from Duck Dynasty

1. Stereotypes Sell – Good marketing is congruent with the beliefs of the target market. This applies to all products and services, but it’s especially true for lowest common denominator things like broadcast television shows and mass market goods, both of which are designed to appeal to as many people as possible.

I’ve worked on “reality television” before. Every element, from the casting, to the storyline, to the edits, has been crafted. There is nothing real about it.


True reality, like the mother on Honey Boo Boo putting earnings from the show into trust funds is boring. Plus, it’s much more profitable to play up her “non-sophisticated” qualities that match the low expectations viewers have about people in the South.

2. You Can’t Please Everybody – Regardless of how “mass market” your product or service is, it’s not going to appeal to everybody, so focus on the people who will really love what you do.

“Duck Dynasty” is a perfect example of appealing to a very specific segment of the cable television audience. Data from Experian Marketing Services shows those who identify themselves as Evangelical Christians and Republicans to be among the series’ most reliable viewers.

How many people actually tune in? The premiere episode of the fourth (and latest) season of “Duck Dynasty” was viewed by 11.77 million people, making it most-watched non-fiction series is cable television history.

Going for a specific audience was what put Phil Robertson on the map. Even before “Duck Dynasty”, he focused on a small segment of the hunting niche. He didn’t have something for everybody — he had something very specific for duck hunters.

There’s a lot of money to be made by going narrow and deep. Today, his company, Duck Commander, is a $40 million business.

3. Image Matters – The majority of reality shows, including “Duck Dynasty”, build upon a foundation of truth with a script that makes things more exciting and unbelievable than they actually are. Good marketing does that.

And sometimes, the foundation is a stripped down version to make it more palatable to people — good marketing does that too. For example, the edits of the of “Duck Dynasty” show a non-offensive, watered-down version of Christianity and down-home values that appears to be a lot more simple than what Phil Robertson actually believes.

Is either of these things bad? No. These things are standard procedure and good storytelling. People don’t want details — we want a simple solution for our problems. It only becomes an issue if the whole story is exposed, and we find out we got something different than what we signed on for. It’s disappointing for people when expectations don’t meet reality.

This happens all the time with celebrities. Tiger Woods turned out not to be as nice as we thought. Miley Cyrus isn’t as innocent as we thought. Barack Obama secretly smokes cigarettes.

What’s the solution? Control your image.

Sometimes image control is impossible, since “image” can vary widely, depending on individual audience members and how they react to it. As a whole though, the best thing you can do is make sure you don’t let a company, publicist, or other controlling factor take over doing what you should develop yourself. This is likely what happened to Phil Robertson, but with that said, is anybody really shocked? The core audience of Evangelical Christians and Republicans have been energized by this, since the “whole story” is a closer match for their pre-existing beliefs than what A&E airs.

4. Bad Publicity Has Value – Phil Robertson said a few things about homosexuality in a GQ Magazine interview that some people don’t agree with. And he was suspended for these remarks… Regardless, people are talking about his show. Beyond that, with so many Evangelical Christian and Republican viewers, many of whom will agree with his views, “Duck Dynasty” may transcend simply being a television show to become the voice of upcoming political campaigns.

5. The Power of Confirmation Bias – A recent Pew poll found that 45% of Americans think homosexuality is a “sin.”  When you have a celebrity, such as Phil Robertson, says what you’re thinking, even if you just think says what you’re thinking, not only does it make you feel like you’re right, it also forms a bond…especially when this isn’t necessarily a viewpoint people feel comfortable sharing in public.

If you want great examples of this in action, listen to the advertising on right-wing, conservative talk radio. Or look at what happened when Dan Cathy, President of Chick-Fil-A, made similar anti-gay comments during an interview with the Baptist Press.

The good news for marketers is that this works for anybody, not just celebrities, politicians, and CEOs. What can you say that your customers are already feeling?

6. Backend It – This is where the real money is made. “Duck calls” will give you an interesting story that can lead to bigger things, such as a television show. And a television show can make a lot of money and sell more duck calls, but the real money is the backend of books, music, board games, t-shirts, dolls, bracelets, calendars, and fake beards.

Every business has the option to do something similar. What products and services does your current audience need?

7. Sell a Secondary Product – Duck Dynasty isn’t about duck calls or even Phil Robertson’s family — it’s about “American Values” like God, patriotism, and gun ownership.

What are you really selling?

8. Control the Conversation – Phil Robertson’s suspension from “Duck Dynasty” isn’t about the First Amendment or religious freedom, although that’s what people (and companies) who side with him would like to you believe. Nobody is trying to silence him or change his mind on anything.

In talk radio, there is something we refer to as “hijacking the question” when the person being interviewed doesn’t like what’s being asked and instead makes up a different question to answer. PR guys and politicians are great at this, so if you want example after example, simply watch a press conference after a product recall or during an election cycle.

Think about what happened immediately after the 9/11 attacks. If you didn’t do whatever the politician controlling the conversation was telling you, you were called “un-American.” Is that true? No, especially when you consider one of the most American things you can do, at least based on the Constitution, is to express yourself. Still though, because so many people were scared during this time, it’s was a very powerful tool for getting them to act in a certain way.

9. Have an Enemy – A&E added “spice” to Duck Dynasty with bleeps normally used for profanity, even though there was no profanity. The network also cut out “in Jesus’ name” from Roberson’s mealtime prayers.

When word got about about this, an enemy was born…

The issues were bigger than a cable network against Phil Robertson. It was “new America” against “old-fashioned, wholesome, Christian values” — something the Evangelical Christian and Republican audience could really get behind.

What is something your audience can fight against?

The Truth About Phil Robertson and “Duck Dynasty”

If you’re doing something with the public, whether through a book, a blog, or another medium, there are people who are watching you from a distance. When you speak your mind, there are those who will disagree with you. And if you’re successful at something, there are those who will delight in seeing you fail.

The one person who really knows what’s going on with Phil Robertson is Phil Robertson. If you’ve ever had any media attention, even just a little, you know how easy it is for things to be blown out of proportion or twisted.

Learn from what’s happened to Phil Robertson, but don’t let it keep you from speaking your truth. His views may be “old-fashioned” and even insensitive, but they’ve opened up a discussion that will make us all better.

ABOUT THIS SERIES: Every Monday, I analyze the good, bad, and ugly about the marketing behind a common business or famous personality. See other posts in this series here and, if you have a request for something (or someone) you’d like me to analyze for this series, contact me via Twitter.

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