As you’ve likely heard, Paula Deen, America’s most famous butter slinger, has found herself in hot water after admitting during a court deposition to using racial slurs in her past.
While I’m not sure why (or if) anyone is actually surprised that a 66-year-old Georgia Peach has used such language in her life, I do find it interesting how quickly the outrage caused by her admission has burned out of control, leading to a media-dominating controversy that has so far cost her an 11-year-position with Food Network and jeopardized millions of dollars in endorsement deals with the likes of K-mart, Sears and others.
To be clear, I’m not trying to minimize the seriousness of Deen’s words: there’s no excuse for using racial slurs. However, even though I understand the sensitivities involved, I think it’s interesting to ponder how — from a marketing perspective — Paula Deen can save her brand. So Paula, here’s my advice. Do with it as you please:
- Go off the radar for a while.
Deen has now released three poorly produced, hastily thrown-together YouTube apology videos — each stranger and more uncomfortable to watch than the last. The videos portray a solo, groveling Deen making vague mea culpas to her friends, fans and those whom she offended.The problem with the videos is that not one of them approach anything close to sincerity. In fact, the poor production values make them seem downright unserious. Worst of all, they have only added more kindling to a media firestorm that is already raging white-hot. So pull it back, Paula. Lay low for a while.
- Issue an HONEST written statement.This should’ve been the first step. Written statements don’t make for compelling television; they don’t provide the red meat that videos and press conferences do — but that’s the point. A boring-but-honest written statement — one in which Deen allows herself to be honest and vulnerable — can help minimize any further damage until Lindsay Lohan’s next arrest recaptures America’s attention.In this statement, Deen needs to break character and drop the “lawdy me” southern belle act. She needs to admit that, while there are no excuses for her actions, hurtful language and harmful attitudes about race were ingrained in the culture in which she was born. Again, it’s not an excuse or a justification — just a substantial truth that will sooner resonate with her audience than a hollow apology.
- Do an AMA with Reddit.Odd as it sounds, Deen’s racist revelation could’ve been much, much worse. She wasn’t caught in the act like Michael Richards or Mel Gibson. In fact, one could argue that her trouble stemmed from being honest. For this reason, I believe she’s in a better position to earn redemption than some others who’ve shared this position.
However, instead of taking the predictable path and groveling at the feet of Oprah or Barbara Walters, I believe Deen would better benefit from the inelegant, non-sensational platform of Reddit’s AMA.The popular Q&A forum, which has played host to everyone from Dutch sex workers to President Obama, would give Deen an opportunity be honest and contrite without risking verbal gaffes or poor “optics” (an expression I hate, by the way).
So what do you think Paula Deen should do? Can she survive this controversy and save her brand? Or is it too late to butter up her fans again?