A still from Mossberg's new Duck Commander campaign starring Phil Robertson.
"Do you know what makes me happy, ladies and gentlemen?" asks Phil Robertson in a video ad for his family's brand new line of guns on the website of firearm manufacturer Mossberg. "To blow a mallard drake's head smooth off."
Robertson has far more to be happy about in 2014. The patriarch of the Duck Dynasty clan was recently reinstated by A&E after a brief suspension from the hit show for making anti-gay remarks in an interview.
The network's capitulation shouldn't have been surprising given the unprecedented success of the bayou-based series, which set a reality TV record for its August season premiere with 11.8 million viewers.
What's more, Duck Dynasty cemented itself as a merchandise brand in 2013, selling an estimated $400 million of product tie-ins as the Robertsons' bearded faces and trademark camouflage made their way into fans' homes. Sales at Walmart accounted for about half of that bounty.
What's different this time? Well, the Robertson family's new gun line isn't putting any coins in the coffers of A&E or its licensing partners, at least directly. Neither A&E nor Brandgenuity, the agency that handles more than 75 licensing deals for the network, had anything to do with the deal. It was done directly between Mossberg and Duck Commander, the Robertsons' Louisiana-based company.
This should serve as a reminder to A&E that the Robertsons were retailers long before Duck Dynasty hit the air in 2012. They've been selling hand-crafted duck calls and other hunting paraphernalia through Duck Commander since 1972.
In a recent interview with Forbes, Phil's son Willie Robertson, the 41-year-old CEO of the family business and a popular cast member, described how A&E's free publicity had helped Duck Commander's bottom line.
"We sold 50,000 duck calls [in 2012]," he said. "In 2013, we sold 1 million."
While it remains to be seen whether Duck Commander will cement further branding deals without A&E's oversight, what's clear is that the demand is there. In 2013, Duck Dynasty merchandise sales grew 50% quarter by quarter.
“We’re turning down licensing opportunities,” Brandgenuity's Andy Topkins told Forbes in November. “People can’t get enough products.”
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