The Stories of Kim Kardashian and Paula Deen – Real vs. Fake Relationships with Fans

ImageWhat happens when a brand you love fools you once, fools you twice? When it comes to reality television, there is a thin line between real and rehearsed. Viewers demand authenticity, but flee if “real” is “too real” (read boring). When the line is crossed, does it mean a loss of fans forever?

Recently, both Kim Kardashian and Paula Deen have been in the hot seat for purportedly pulling the wool (or perhaps the fat) over their fans eyes. Celebrities, retailers and other brands say they want to build deep, authentic relationships with their fans. But like a player-boyfriend, these broad statements seem more like a means to an end. And as long as brands are getting what they want, they may have less incentive to act on the up and up.

So is it right to lie to your fans? Paula Deen seems to have waited until her empire was taken care of before announcing she had diabetes. A lucrative pharmaceutical spokesperson deal will certainly assure an infusion of financial juice to her portfolio. Nothing wrong with taking care of your livelihood and loved ones. But Paula’s crisis management PR team should have prepared her better for her big announcement. Deen’s interview answers came off as evasive, rehearsed and flat-out fake.

Tips for avoiding the Paula Deen PR disaster:

1) Share bad news with your fans soon after it happens.

2) If you choose to wait, be honest about why you waited. How about: “I was embarrassed; I wanted to get my health on track; I knew I had to change, but was suddenly lost about my identity and my legacy.”

Paula is playing the same game as politicians and baseball players–Lie, lie, lie until the media and the public forget and come around to loving you again. But it is too late for Paula Deen’s brand? Has Paula Deen (TM) jumped the shark?

While Paula Deen’s actions may have physically damaged fans, Kim Kardashian’s stunt packed an emotional punch. She was accused not only of turning her wedding into a publicity stunt, but also of shooting additional scenes to cover up her actions. In Kim and Kourtney Take New York, the editing makes it clear that Kim and her mother, Kris Jenner, are in a towncar heading from a Dubai hotel to the airport for a flight to the States. Mom asks Kim if she is excited to see her hubbie, NBA player Kris Humphries. Kim replies No. A serious conversation ensues in which mother tells daughter newlyweds do not normally feel this way. Fans come away feeling empathetic toward the heroine (Kim) who has made a human error (rushing into marriage for love). Mind you the first episode of the new season starts with a montage of media images about the divorce and insinuates this season of Kim and Kourtney Take New York will clear up any media-induced misunderstandings. This make E! Entertainment Television, or at least one of its post-production teams, complicit in the cover-up.

Whether or not the Deen or Kardashian empires will crash because of their duplicity will be the ultimate test. Once fans are duped, it is hard to build that trust back. When brands that sell themselves as authentic reveal themselves to be hypocritical, viewership declines, as does ancillary revenue. But truly addicted fans will likely keep coming back for more, just as in a bad romance. While we say we want to know the truth, what we really want is to be told we look good in these jeans, and no, our butts can never get too big.

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