Celebrity chef Paula Deen’s decision to become a pitchwoman for a diabetes drug is leaving a bad taste in the mouths of Madison Avenue branding experts.
Ms. Deen, a Food Network star known for her fat-laden recipes, disclosed on Tuesday that she has had Type 2 diabetes for about three years and that she has signed on to be the spokeswoman for Novo Nordisk AS, which makes diabetes drugs such as Victoza.
Obesity increases people’s risk for Type 2 diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. Novo Nordisk is launching a new marketing campaign featuring Ms. Dean to show off healthy recipes. For instance, the drug maker’s website provides a recipe for lasagna made with low-fat ingredients including extra-lean ground beef and reduced-fat cheese. It’s a far cry from Ms. Deen’s typical recipes that have included “Deep-Fried Mac and Cheese” and “Fried Butter Balls.”
Ad executives say this switch will confuse consumers. Her brand is all about “rich, tasty and decadent eating” but now she is supposed to be about “eating healthy and low fat,” said Allen Adamson, managing director of Landor New York, a branding firm owned by WPP PLC. “It’s a big change to expect consumers to buy into,” he added.
Many consumers bemoaned and mocked the news on social-media sites such as Twitter. “I think it’s completely gross that Paula Deen made $$$ pushing food that makes you sick and will now make $$$ pushing the medication for it,” read one Tweet.
A spokeswoman for Novo said it chose Ms. Deen because she “resonates with people” and she has “the power to make a difference.” Her new emphasis on healthy foods could undercut her existing cookbooks “that are all tied to fatty foods,” noted Dean Crutchfield, a branding expert at Caffeine. If it’s going to succeed, Mr. Crutchfield said Ms. Deen is “going to have to change her shows and all the recipes she puts out there.”
A spokeswoman for Ms. Deen said that the chef will be creating lighter alternatives for her recipes and is in discussions with the Food Network to have those recipes incorporated into her show. Still, the spokeswoman added that Ms. Deen will also “stay true to her Grandmama Paul’s Southern cooking, which is part of her heritage.”
Odd alliances aren’t unknown on Madison Avenue. In 2002, B.B. King simultaneously promoted Burger King and diabetes products, including a blood-sugar test kit by LifeScan Inc., a unit of Johnson & Johnson.
Write to Suzanne Vranica at firstname.lastname@example.org