01/19/2012 06:52 pm ET

Paula Deen's Preventable Marketing Disease

Paula Deen announcing she has Type II Diabetes after endorsing a drug company's diabetic treatment product is like a man admitting he's a sex addict after inking a deal with Viagra. Sadly, she could have avoided selling her filleted soul to the devil, changed the lives of countless diabetics and made millions more from her brand.

No matter how hard marketers try, it's hard to imagine a larger misstep for Paula Deen's brand, franchise and image. Known as the culinary queen of down home cooking, she relished her fat-laden, high-sugar feasts through cooking shows, books and licensed products. Downplaying the significant role that her lifestyle played in her Type II Diabetes diagnosis puts her brand legacy and future profits in jeopardy.

Three years ago, Ms. Deen was diagnosed with Type II Diabetes. For the next three years, she continued on her delicious, wildly unhealthy course without missing a single marketing beat. She evangelized her fat, fried and sugared recipes with the enthusiasm of a drug pusher, only to become one for drug company Novo Nordisk when there was money to be made.

As marketers, we look for spokespersons to represent our products so that we sell more of them. We are, after all, in the business of selling products and services. Hopefully, we do that with ethos. Unfortunately, there are marketers willing and able to sugar coat truths to increase sales. Arguably Novo Nordisk, the manufacturer of Type II Diabetes drug Victoza, is doing just that. And Paula, using her celebrity to make money off of her disease and at the potential expense of those consumers who trust her, seems more than happy to participate.

Provided you have enough insulin on hand, visit the Paula Deen hosted, Victoza sponsored site, Deen explains that one needs make only simple changes -- in her case, the big sacrifices were giving up sweet tea and walking more with her husband and tweaking recipes -- to manage that little nuisance, Type II Diabetes. The sell that brings you closer to hell, as we marketers know, never works in the long term. Victoza will, most definitely, reap the rewards of increased awareness and sales now. However, it will fail in the long term if the product alone, without substantive live style changes, doesn't change the lives of its consumers for the better.

I'd hazard to guess how much money Ms. Deen received to sell her branded soul. The truly sad part, other than giving misguided hope to those who have the disease and listen to her, is that she could have made more money as a true role model. Had she announced her malady and dedicated herself to change, both prescriptive (possibly with Victoza) and lifestyle, her marketing opportunities would have been endless.

Unfortunately, Deen and the makers of Victoza took the easy way out and, in doing so, missed a huge opportunity to be the anchor and champion of a new movement. If they had taken a page out of Special K cereal's successful campaign, "The Special K Challenge," Novo Nordisk could have made Victoza the "hero" element of a bigger solution. The Special K Challenge establishes Special K, along with diet and exercise, as part of a healthy lifestyle. The product doesn't claim or infer that cereal alone will solve weight issues, nor would that be necessary or prudent. At the end of the day, if the program suggested by Special K works, it will move more boxes. Victoza, positioned as part of a dedicated lifestyle change rather than an almost magic syringe, would sell more with Deen as the spokesperson than it's poised to do now.

Much like sports teams that change logos to sell more licensed merchandise, Paula could have opened an entirely new wing of her empire by changing her offerings. Realizing that there will always be a market for the cooking style that made her famous and thus not in any real danger of waning, Paula could have kept her legacy intact and added to her offerings by reinventing herself as someone committed to wellness. With a healthy life, healthy living cooking genre, Paula could have used her celebrity for good (and for a great deal of profit). Americans love those who struggle through adversity, and she could have reaped millions from such a movement.

Paula is now suffering from the popular perception that money bought her new-found honesty. If money was her motivator, sadly, she missed what would have been a whole grain-fed cash cow. Millions could have been made from exercise apparel and equipment endorsements, over the counter vitamin and drug deals, wellness cook books and a wealth of other opportunities. By playing the wrong hand, Paula left untold millions on the table.

Marketing mixes and Type II Diabetes can't be fixed, much to Ms. Deen's chagrin, with a sweet smile and pound of butter.