Branding and the bashlash of the backlash

For those of you who don’t live 24/7 in the blogsphere, you may have missed the latest flare up in reputation management — Rachael Ray’s scarf. Here is a summary of the controversy from the NewYork Times:

On May 7, Dunkin’ Donuts began running an ad on its Web site and others, featuring the celebrity chef Rachael Ray holding a cup of the company’s iced coffee while wearing a black-and-white fringed scarf. In the ad, which was shot in a studio, she is shown standing in front of trees with pink blossoms and a building with a distinctive spire.
On May 23, the conservative blog Little Green Footballs posted an item that likened Ms. Ray’s scarf to the type typically worn by Muslim extremists. The blog said that the ads “casually promote the symbol of Palestinian terrorism and the intifada, the keffiyeh, via Rachael Ray.”
Later that day, the conservative blogger Michelle Malkin chimed in, likening the scarf to a keffiyeh and calling it “jihadi chic.” Then the story, as they say on the Internet, went totally viral.

Dunkin’ pulled the ad. But the controversy continued. As the story relates:

From there, a backlash to the backlash started to take hold.
An item about the controversy had more than 2,300 votes and 830 comments on Digg, a news aggregation site. A YouTube video, “Rachael Ray Is a Terrorist,” poked fun at the situation, with the narrator saying, “Yes, because when I look at Rachael Ray I think 9/11.” That video drew more than 2,300 comments, and a related story on The Huffington Post had more than 1,200 comments.

Sometimes the most trivial things – like a scarf – can trigger strong emotions. In this interconnected virtual world, emotions can travel faster than facts. Think of all those “urban myth” stories that pop up in your email inbox. Many times they are circulated and accepted because they strike some emotional response — a warning of some fear, something cute we want to share.
For Dunkin’ the controversy may be a net gain, in the form of a huge amount of free advertising. And it is not clear that the advertising was negative. There appear to be more folks outraged with the conservative’s attempt to blow this up into some fear-mongering political statement. As Bob Parson, the head of GoDaddy.com, was quoted in the story, “You need to find and do something that is a bit edgy, that is polarizing, that provides some water-cooler conversation.”
I’m not sure I agree with that — there is already too much polarization in our society. But, I will have to think about it over my cup of Dunkin’ coffee.

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