Burning Question: Why does Paula Deen lose half her empire for her statements, but Alec Baldwin tweets a homophobic rant and nothing happens? Does racism trump homophobia in Hollywood or something? — Cannibal Pete, Toronto
No. Otherwise Mel Gibson would still have A-list status in the United States. And he doesn't.
According to experts in the field of celebrity shilling (and there's a whole industry there), it’s not so much about the offense as it is the offender and the potentially offended. Felonies (Martha Stewart), cheating scandals (Tiger Woods), racial cluelessness (Brad Paisley), violence against women (Chris Brown), misdemeanors (everybody) — it doesn't really matter what the transgression is. What matters is who did it; how it was done; what kind of reputation the offender had in the first place; and how the star behaves during the fallout.
Paula Deen didn't have a real big image as an ignorant good-ol'-gal before last week. But she sure does now. You can bet that her sponsors didn’t see it comin'. And if there's one thing a corporate sponsor hates, it's a surprise.
And a self-pitying blubberfest on a nationally telecast morning talk show.
Compare that scandal with Baldwin, who lashed out with a homophobic rant on Twitter this week. Baldwin may be a vindictive man-child, but he's a consistent vindictive man-child. Has been for decades.
[Related: Alec Baldwin Apologizes for Homophobic Rant]
"His temper is almost seen as a part of his fun personality," explains Kathy Armistead Olen of Atticus Brand Partners. In other words, if the Capitol One people didn't know what they were getting when they first hired the "30 Rock" alum to do commercials, then their brains are probably as plastic as their credit cards.
The "how" matters, too. Brad Paisley still has an ongoing partnership with Chevy, Olen says. And that's even after releasing "Accidental Racist," in which Paisley essentially wonders why his Confederate flag T-shirt has to make people so dang offended. It's a cringeworthy sentiment. But it was expressed through the medium that made Paisley a respected star: music.
"They appreciate that this was an expression coming from an artist," says Olen, who has helped broker deals between Paisley and the car company. "This wasn't acted out in public setting. It was in a song."
Are you starting to see a pattern here?
Consider Martha Stewart. She still has a thriving career even after doing jail time. Did she have a rep as a stone-cold criminal before she was convicted on charges related to insider trading? No. But as soon as she got sprung, she avoided the self-pitying interviews favored by Chris Brown types (and the disastrous press conferences favored by Tiger Woods) and instead went right back to doing what she did before — teaching us how to make watering cans even more twee than they already are. And her business partners noticed. And they showered upon her their dollars.
If you're still chapped about Baldwin getting an apparent pass, know this: It may not last.
"If Capitol One were to check out the word on the street," says another branding expert who asked not to be named, "and if it sees a huge negative public reaction [to Baldwin], they'll totally dump him."
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