Phil Robertson’s controversial Interview with GQ last week may have signaled the end of A&E’s incredibly popular reality series, Duck Dynasty, but Walmart sales of the franchise’s merchandise have skyrocketed.
In November Forbes staff economics writer Clare O’Connor reported that by the end of 2013 the Robertson Family retail machine “will have raked in a massive $400 million in revenues.” Her industry sources may be proven to have significantly underestimated year-end gross sales, however. In an apparent show of solidarity with the show’s showcase southern family, consumers are buying everything that isn’t bolted down.
In a December 18th follow up report titled “Duck Dynasty Star’s Anti-Gay Rant: Is Walmart And A&E’s $400 Million Empire At Stake?” O’Connor speculated that Robertson’s “horribly ignorant, anti-gay rhetoric,” would put pressure on Walmart—responsible for 50 percent of Duck Dynasty merchandise—and other retailers to stop selling A&E’s and the Robertson family’s licensed products. The “pressure will be on,” she wrote, for the world’s largest retailer to deal with the “ugly situation.”
O’Connor has reason to expect such a reaction from Walmart. Following allegations of racism against Paula Deen the retail chain publicly ended their relationship with her. The difference with Deen though, may be that her viewers and fans didn’t rush retail outlets to snatch up every last piece of her brand’s goods.
With Duck Dynasty sales skyrocketing, merchandise is falling off Santa’s availability list. Many of the franchise’s 1,200 trademarked items are available at Walmart.com but with increased consumer support, especially in the South, items are quickly becoming “out of stock online.”
In an article for the Hollywood Reporter, Alex Ben Block interviewed Chris Stone, founder of the Faith Driven Consumer Group (FDCG). Stone’s group, upon hearing of A&E’s suspension of Robertson, launched a petition to the broadcasting company demanding the “immediate reinstatement of Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson,” with a goal of 20,000 signatures. In approximately one week the petition has garnered over 178,000 signatures. Notably, the petition claims, “There are 46 million Faith Driven Consumers in America today who spend 1.75 trillion dollars annually.” It goes on to warn A&E that if they refuse to “equally respect and welcome our legitimately held [religious] views, we will gladly stop watching this and all other A&E programming,” stating that FDCG members would follow the Robertson Family to any other network and support brands that align with the show and the family.
Stone predicted that consumers in his group will show overwhelming commercial support of the reality show’s family with their buying power because they would be “more inclined to engage with the brand because they identify with it,” due to similarly held beliefs.
Ira Mayer, President of EPM, which produces The Licensing Letter, is quoted in the interview as supporting Stone’s projections. Mayer, suggesting that consumers in “alignment with Robertson,” might show support by purchasing more Duck Dynasty merchandise despite the reality that others will find Robertson’s statements offensive and stop buying altogether.
There is no argument that Phil Robertson’s statements during his GQ magazine interview polarized the religious and political discussion surrounding homosexuality. The call for retailers to ban sales of A&E’s Duck Dynasty retail goods are abounding from LGBT and community groups while those defending free speech and religious ideology are demanding Robertson’s reinstatement. But the future of the reality television show that had 11.8 million viewers for its season premier may not be decided by public opinion alone. The end-of-year sales totals are not in yet, but it appears as if sales may skyrocket past the $400 million predictions from just one month ago. The as-yet-unanswered question about whether or not A&E, Walmart, or any other retailers will halt sales. The decision to kill the duck that lays their golden eggs might just linger a little while longer—at least until the buying dies down.
By Matt Darjany