5 Reasons Why Celebrity Controversy Doesn't Always Damage The Brand


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There has been a major shift in the last decade where words and sentiments that would have previously been safeguarded and never spoken to media outlets are now shared freely.  Technology is to thank for that, as social media allows one's instant thoughts to be broadcast around the world in less time than it takes to type out that opinion and use social media as a loudspeaker.  Which for most of us is not a giant concern, as there are not so many watching our social stream like a hawk.  And people feel protected to say what they feel behind the near anonymity of social media.

But for brands, celebrities and those larger than life influencers, it's a whole new world where being vocal about one's beliefs can cause the absolute perfect storm of a PR nightmare.  And how one deals' with the aftermath is what controls the consequences that are felt, which are surprisingly often not overly damaging.  In this blog, Hollywood Branded discusses five of the reasons why celebrity controversy is not always damaging to their brand, or those associated with it.  

5 Reasons Why Controversy Isn't Always Bad For Brands

Under The Scrutiny Of A 24/7 Microscope

Celebrities live under a microscope, with every outside step followed closely by paparazzi, and by social media even in the privacy of their homes.  And many celebrities have become more loose lipped, sharing political beliefs or controversial thoughts through their social media.

And that is really scary for brands who might be partnered with these individuals.  Whether that be a celebrity or influencer who made the comment, or a figurehead from the brand itself.

But what is often even more surprising than the backlash that these comments quickly receive, is that there is often no lasting permanent damage. The social scorn that followed slowly drifted off, and with exception to the most passionate, it settles down.   It's as if once a bit of time has passed, and new topics of questionable conversation become the hot button to focus upon, that these gaffes seem to never have occurred in the first place.

And the brand, celebrity or influencer is almost let off the hook. What that means is, that in the world of today’s social media marketing, the repercussions of those actions may not always lead to a damaged image.  And in fact, the only thing that does seem to have some permanent sticking damage at the moment is all that is related to the #metoo #timesup movements.

So let's take a look at some celebrity mishaps...

Paula Deen And Racism

Now that a couple years have passed since her racially charged statements in 2015 it seems Paula Deen has been given a second chance at having her own TV show as of January this year. The currently syndicated show conveniently titled Positively Paula airs on RFD-TV and is filmed in Paula’s home in Savannah, Georgia with guest appearances from her friends and family. She’s even taking a crack at cooking healthier meal options in place of the butter heavy dishes that she is so known for in the video clip below. Needless to say, Paula is ecstatic to be hosting a new show.



Back in 2013, however, Paula Deen had tremendous damage done to her brand when a leaked deposition tape revealed her to say the most nefarious of words.  And she lost a tremendous amount of money through her cancellation of her TV series, and most of her brand deals.  Yet today, she's back.  Not as big as before, but still cooking and releasing cookbooks that her very loyal fan base buys.

She lost her brand partnership with Walmart, Smithfield, Novo Nordisk, QVC, Target, Caesar's Entertainment, and Whit-Ash Furnishings

Yet brands also decided to both continue the partnership and released these statements (compiled by Eater):

  • Universal Furniture: "As you know, the hype around this matter has many people rushing to judgment as well as many others rushing to Paula's defense. We believe it is only fair to you, our dealer, our company and frankly Paula herself to let the facts playout before taking any action. We have had several conversations with Paula and her team over the weekend...Discrimination of any sort is contrary to both our personal and our corporate philosophy. Our company is in fact full of diversity and we are richer for it."
  • New York City Wine & Food Festival: "Paula and her family are longtime supporters of our Festivals, and this is an unfortunate situation."
  • Springer Mountain Farms: "We support Paula Deen. We have worked closely with her for the last two years and know her to be a compassionate, caring person. We have seen her with all types of people and have never seen any sign of prejudice. We truly believe her when she says she is sorry for any hurt feeling she has caused. We are very pleased with the interview Paula Deen gave this morning offering her apologies and reaffirming her personal commitment to equality and fairness for all. As an organization we believe that she and her team are on the right track and we look forward to continuing to work together."
  • Alice Travel: "Due to the amazing response we've had in the past years from Paula's fans, we are actually planning 2 Paula Deen Cruises for 2014. In the 5 years that I have been working with Paula and her staff it has been an amazing journey. I listen to so many people telling Paula their stories of how she inspired them when they were going through bad times. I had the same experience, so I understand. If Paula goes, we go with her and from what we are hearing, so are her fans."
  • Metro Cooking Show: "Paula Deen has been a friend of The Metropolitan Cooking & Entertaining Show for many years. She has apologized and we are taking her apology at her wordand moving forward accordingly. The Metropolitan Cooking & Entertaining Show does not condone or believe in the use of derogatory slurs by anyone. This is a nation of forgiveness and second chances. In that spirit we intend to go forward with the MetroCooking Shows in Houston, Dallas and Washington, DC as planned with Paula as a presenter. At this time we have no plans to do otherwise."

Kanye West & Politics

It’s no surprise that we yet again find Kanye at the center of a publicity/PR storm. With new albums that just got released many say that this is just another one of his crazy publicity stunts to drive attention and eyes to him. But this time much of his loyal fanbase feels that he may be crossing the line a lot further than he has in the past. Not only did he release pictures of himself wearing the now infamous “Make America Great Again” hat but he was also able to get the hat signed by Trump himself seemingly solidifying his relationship to the president. Add to that his most recent controversial statement about slavery being a choice on TMZ Live and most would say that Kanye is intentionally trying to commit social suicide.

However in spite of all the uproar Kanye has caused, Adidas, business partners since 2013, has decided to stay alongside the critically acclaimed rapper stating:

“Kanye has been, and is, a very important part of our strategy and has been a fantastic creator….Kanye and the Yeezy are a very important part of our brand, from a revenue standpoint less so”.

Senior industry adviser for sports at NPD Group Matt Powell shares his insight on the situation:

“It depends on how long the story lasts….you never know what kind of celebrity backlash there is going to be in these cases. I think today's consumers want to know what a brand's values are. If those values don't align with their views, they're prepared to take their business elsewhere."

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Martha Stewart & Tax Evasion

For many, white collar crimes would undoubtedly put an unwanted mark on your record and become a source of shame for an individual. Ironically, this is not the case for Martha Stewart.

On the contrary, many would argue that Stewart’s stint in jail in 2005 for insider trading and earlier conviction of tax evasion may have somehow helped her gain more of a following. She has definitely garnered “street cred” by the likes of those in the urban Hip-Hop community such as Snoop Dogg.In many ways her legal troubles have only added to her overall popularity!

I think the reason being is because you would never think a modest, innocent lady such as herself would ever commit such crimes. The thought of her actually spending time in jail almost sounds comical to the point where it mirrors the plot line of the Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart comedy “Get Hard”. Since then she has gotten a VH1 TV show co-hosting alongside Snoop Dogg called “Martha & Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party”, she was a surprise hit at the Comedy Central Roast of Justin Bieber in 2015, and in 2018 she appeared in a hilarious super bowl commercial for Jack in the Box’s new line of food truck inspired sandwiches (in fact check out our blog Celebrity Endorsements For Fast Food.)  

It’s pretty safe to say that Martha’s relevancy in the pop culture world isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.



Phil Robertson From Duck Dynasty & Racism

The show's audience ratings did decline sharply after the controversy, and eventually completely petered out, with Phil's controversial statements lighting that match.  But while so many brands did walk away at first, the public outcry of support actually had retailers putting the Duck Dynasty brand BACK ON their shelves after they pulled it amidst the controversy, so as to not upset a very large fan base.  It turns out that the show had a lot of fans who shared his views seemingly.  And that put brands in a tough situation.  Sales versus personal viewpoints... and it turned out in this scenario at least, that sales mattered more.

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Why The Impact Is Less, Well... Impactful

Let’s face it, our society has changed. This is not the 1950's anymore, and social media has allowed people to find others to join together and voice their beliefs.  What was at one point considered politically correct and a career killer just isn't really that big of a deal anymore. 

It may be that we just have so much information now easily accessible.  Every little scandal is shared and discussed fervently, until the next scandal comes along and distracts us.

But there are more reasons than just having an endless parade of distracting scandals occurring to allow these bumps in the road to smooth out.  Let's take a look at five reasons why controversy isn't always so bad in the long run for a celebrity's brand image, or their associated brands.

#1 A Louder Voice Is A Larger Voice

Let’s face it, for whatever the reasons, it is no longer uncommon or seen as dangerous to express viewpoints and those not so sensitive opinions to the general public.  Because for as many people who are upset by it, there is often an equal number of people who have hold the opposite viewpoint, and are just as loud stating their approval, as those who are shouting in dismay.  

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#2 Taking The Wait & See Approach Versus Jumping Ship  

It used to be that brands lived in terror that their celebrity partner would do the smallest of infractions.  While that worry is still there, many endorsement brand partners have weathered the storm and fallout of their celebrities.  And not lost money in the process, and not really feeling repercussions. 

That thought process however is not supported by all brands.  Instances like in the case of ABC instantly cancelling Roseanne Barr’s show based on her 2 am tweets do happen, but today more rarely.  With so much riding at stake it makes decisions like these that much harder to make, but in the end they end up gaining the respect of their progressive liberal audience.

Time will tell how well Roseanne's own brand will recover.

#3 Little To No Loss Of Sales & Sometimes Increased Sales

In rare instances, it is the brand, or brand spokesperson, who decides to take social stances in regards to certain issues or topics such as same sex marriage or nursing in public.  Both of these became two hot topics first back in 2012 when Dan T. Cathy, the chief operating officer for Chick-fil-A, made a series of public comments that were in opposition of same sex marriage. While many activists called for protests and boycotts, supporters of the restaurant chain and opponents of same sex marriage ate there in support of the restaurant, rallying others to come join them.

The brand actually made more money.

However all things have a flip side, and Chick-fil-A did have numerous business partners who severed ties with the chain.  Yet despite this, Chick-fil-A continued to see a rise in their sales by 12% to $4.6 billion. Chick-fil-A never apologized for the remarks on behalf of Cathy but simply stated “Going forward, our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena.”

#4 Sensationalism Gets Eyes On No Matter What

As mentioned above, Kanye West decided to make his return to the Twitter-sphere. In a very big way.  And although in the back of our minds we always expect Kanye to express some outlandish, radical new ideas and opinions, for many he took it to a whole other level with his comments about slavery and political beliefs.  But those tweets did one thing - they skyrocketed Kanye's name and conversation to every major media network, and across all of social media.  In fact, in hindsight this may have been one of the best PR moves ever made, as it preceded the launch of his new album, a fact that even those who don't listen to the musician are aware of due to the extensive coverage.

While for many his views left a lasting bitter aftertaste, he quite possibly garnered more eyes and attention than he has ever been able to muster before in his career.  Didn't someone once say there is no such thing as bad PR...

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#5 Gaining Followers Vs. Losing Followers

Yes, Kanye's loyal fanbase was up in arms, with many stating they were done being fans.  But there is also another peculiar series of events that we may have to wait to see unfold. He may have just gained more followers and fans in the wake of this whole controversy from an entirely new demographic. Not to say that this has been his intention all along, but it definitely may be a by product of this whole publicity storm that he’s been orchestrating.

Whether this was just to gain attention for his soon to be released new projects or not he definitely has more eyes on him than he’s ever had before.  

And that bandwidth of supporters means that there are people willing to step in and become fervent new supporters of that individual, counterbalancing the loss, and possibly even growing a larger fan base of vocal support.

Just Another Form Of Entertainment

Hollywood and the entertainment industry as a whole are no strangers when it comes to controversy, especially as of late. To see what other brands have done, or on the flip side, their famous endorsers, check out some of our other blogs to read more!

And also definitely check out our blog Six Steps To Safeguard Your Celebrity Endorsement.

If you are interested in seeing case studies on celebrity endorsement deals that led to some whopping brand sales success... be sure to check out our video below!

Celebrity Endorsement Deal Case Studies That Made Sales Happen Video