Paula Deen and the Odor of Inauthenticity

Food Network star and cookbook author Paula Deen chose to keep her diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes a secret for three years, while she continued to promote recipes heavy in fat, sugar and salt—recipes that if followed faithfully and frequently can contribute to the onset of diabetes.

Her announcement of her diagnosis this week coincided with the launch of her endorsement of Novo Nordisk’s diabetes medication, Victoza. She told the New York Times that she delayed announcing her diagnosis because she wanted to wait until she “had something to bring to the table.”

This led to heavy criticism of Deen, who has been accused of holding back information that could affect the lifestyle habits of her fans in order to keep the gravy train rolling, and of speaking up only because Novo Nordisk presented her with a new source of income.

Did either Deen or Novo Nordisk expect this backlash? I admit this is a trick question. If they hadn’t expected it, that means they were naive and perhaps even dismissive of the public’s ability to put two and two together. If they had expected the backlash, that means they were cynical and calculated that Deen’s celebrity endorsement would be such a boost to sales of the drug that it would counteract the effect of accusations of hypocrisy.

If I had to guess, I would say that Novo Nordisk is regretting this deal. All celebrity spokespeople bring with them a whiff of inauthenticity—everyone knows they’re being paid to say Acme Ointment is the best thing since sliced bread. But this particular celebrity spokesperson is giving off a powerful odor—and it’s going to last for a while.

—Steve Goldstein

  • Matt Bennett

    Had Deen made the diabetes announcement, then waited a few months to announce the Noro Nordisk deal, the harsh scrutiny and backlash would have been avoided.

  • Danny Grause

    Part of me goes the business approach and says Paula is now suffering the consequences of snow balling her customers. However, it also has to be noted that a lot of the backlash has to be coming from ignorant consumers who didn’t do their homework (or observe common sense) and realize that she was full of crap to begin with, so who can blame her for making a few bucks and moving into a new revenue stream?

  • Patrick Osio

    Danny Grause – no one is blaming Paula for moving into a new revenue stream or what importance “ignorant consumers” play in her scheme – the question is – did she lose her credibility? The answer seems to be an overwhelming yes.

  • Sandy Leung

    Regardless of the negative impacts of the Deen’s dishonest action on her careers and personal credibility, this incident has demonstrated an example of the importance of building a truthful relationship between a celebrity and public. What Deen has done might confuse students about how people should do in order to keep their business profitable. Is it acceptable to earn money by hiding the truth? I think the answer should be no.