By J.F. McKenna
You remember Emerson’s “better mouse trap,” that marvel toward which the world would beat a path upon discovery.
When it snaps today, it mimics the sound of a duck.
“Where are you going, dear?” I ask Lady Carol as she rushes by me with a determination typically reserved for stopping Max the Papillion from rooting through a wastebasket or short-circuiting any attempt by yours truly to cook spaghetti in her kitchen.
“The new episode of Duck Dynasty is about to start,” she says. Her tone is that of incredulity. How could anyone possibly not know cable television’s greatest show is about to begin?
Always casual when displaying my ignorance, I ask, “Didn’t you just watch it?”
“Oh, no—that was just an episode from Season One.” she responds rapid-fire. “Can’t talk now—gotta go.”
There I am, left in the spousal wake for the relatively benign adventures of bearded entrepreneurs who manufacture duck calls down south. I suppose I could use this unfettered time to make phone calls to other family members, but I know they’re all busy watching Duck Dynasty too.
As hard as it is for me to admit, what we have here is an unmatched marketing phenomenon. And if you don’t believe me, just ask the execs at cable giant A&E, the happy-to-oblige platform serving as the world’s window into the life of the Robertsons of West Monroe, La., a mostly bearded, business-savvy family posing as charming huckleberries. The cable network introduced Phil, Will, Si, et al in 2012 and then harvested a record 9.6 million viewers for the third-season finale last April.
Dismiss Duck Dynasty as cracker barrel humor, if you dare. That cracker barrel is full of revenue from the show, related books and marketing collateral, and enviable market recognition for the Robertson family businesses, Duck Commander and Buck Commander. (I’d make a comment about the Robertsons’ having their ducks in a row—but that’s too easy, isn’t it?)
Why is America embracing Duck Dynasty so wholeheartedly? The business writer in me says most Americans still cheer for the entrepreneur, be he a software consultant or a camo-wearing manufacturer whose corporate campus is the bayou. “Most everything we’ve done we’ve been successful at anyway,” says Wiilie Robertson, who has been CEO of the 41-year-old company since 2006.
That’s not Trump-like boasting; that’s redneck candor. Generated from an Outdoor Channel series, Duck Dynasty is just another manifestation of Providence as far as the Robertsons are concerned—and that gratitude is another appealing quality of this ducky business story.
“For so long we thought only bad behavior made good television,” A&E executive producer David McKillop told Parade magazine in July. “This is one of the rare exceptions. They’re great folk. There’s also a sense of integrity and a feeling that they’re fulfilling the American dream.”
Certainly the sauce atop the Duck Dynasty Dynamic is the humor of this carefully crafted reality show. Sometimes the fine hand of writers and directors is easily detected, but the humor of the family members is the genuine article—from the show’s opening all the way to the concluding grace before dinner. Building a pond in a warehouse loading dock is idiocy even for today’s television audience; but this family pulls it off because of the quips, barbs and retorts. Mark Twain, a clever fellow who himself traded on a bucolic background, would approve of such burlesque. After all, he once said, “Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand.”
To be honest, I’m a bit envious—and not just because Duck Dynasty consumes a lot of Lady Carol’s attention these days. I too hail from a family of eccentric entrepreneurs, and I too have a few tales from that politically incorrect funhouse my sister, cousins and I called the family poultry farm in Columbia Station. The farm is gone now, but the laughter echoes among us.
Then there is my ingenious cousin Jerry, who once trained a goat to ride a kiddie coaster he had rebuilt on his commercial property in Coshocton. After proudly demonstrating that the goat could sit through the full ride, Jerry said, “What do you think?”
I said: “Who’s going to care, really?”
He smugly replied: “The AP reporter coming here tomorrow.”
Someday I’ll share a few more stories from the northern nexus of eccentricity, maybe even for profit. For now I guess I might as well join Lady Carol and watch redneck ingenuity turn into black ink.
CBR contributor J.F. McKenna, a longtime West Park resident, is a business journalist, communications consultant and former editor of the national manufacturing magazine Tooling & Production. He has chased stories throughout the country and as far away as Japan, Israel and that most exotic of financial lands, Wall Street. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or through his LinkedIn profile: Jos. F. McKenna.