If someone would have put a wager on a reality show about a family-run small business selling products for duck hunters being a blockbuster success, I would have bet against it. So, would have the star of the show — patriarch Phil Robertson.
“I was 100 percent convinced Duck Dynasty would never work. It just goes to show how little I know about today’s world, because I was dead wrong,” says Robertson in his book, Happy, Happy, Happy: My Life and Legacy as the Duck Commander. “For the life of me, I can’t figure out why people are so attracted to my family.”
Apparently, Robertson and I are in the minority, as the A&E show has been a ratings phenomenon, with viewers returning week after to week to watch the Robertson’s antics. The series has broken a number of network records and its season-four premiere became the most watched nonfiction episode on cable ever with 11.8 million people turning in (half of those viewers came from the advertiser-loving 25-to 54-year-old demographic).
While viewers enjoy the plot line and find humorous one liners in episodes like “Hot Tub Grime Machine” and “Terminate Be a Problem,” for many fans, it isn’t just the narrative they love, but also the underlying themes of family, faith and patriotism.
“I like the show because there is a huge emphasis on family, and that’s something just about everyone can relate to,” says Minnesotan Josh Dykhuis. “Almost every episode ends with the whole family around a gigantic dinner table.”
Branding expert Liz Goodgold agrees much of Duck Dynasty’s success is due to its principles, along with its Southern charm and authentic characters. Plus, the family’s humor, quotable sound bites and catchphrases make it memorable and easily sharable among fans.
Those values, along with fact the show is stepping outside of the reality-series formula we are accustomed to — there are no celebrity feuds, table tipping or sexual exploitation occurring — makes it refreshing.
“It’s a reality show which finally has a touch of reality,” says Goodgold.
While the family has definitely amassed a huge following after appearing on A&E, the attraction to the clan started long before television.
In the 1980’s, looking for an outlet to hawk his duck products, Phil Robertson produced videos for avid duck hunters. The shows managed to attract quiet the following, making the family popular among the hunter community.
“We were pre-reality TV, early 1980s,” Phil told ABC. “We had a reality show, but it was just a bunch of rednecks shooting ducks.”
This early-marketing strategy, along with the success of the series, has catapulted the family beyond reality television. Duck Dynasty is now a full-blown empire, and the family is leveraging every ounce of their celebrity fame. The Robertson men have published three books, each having more than a million printed copies, while the matriarch, Kay, has her own cookbook.
Plus, they have a highly lucrative partnership with Walmart and are represented in six departments, including apparel, home and sporting goods. Selling everything from clothing (the Duck Dynasty t-shirts are the best sellers in the men’s, women’s and boy’s departments) to dog costumes and even antibacterial bandages, the partnership has paid off in spades.
These endeavors, along with the licensing for smaller products such as a Beard Booth mobile app, have made the Robertson’s a pretty penny. And the family isn’t letting off the gas pedal anytime soon.
Come October, the Robertson’s are also dropping their first Christmas album, titled Duck the Halls, and will be making waves at sea with a cruise meet-and-greet in 2014.
Apparently, gambling isn’t my thing.