The Olive Garden’s Unwanted ‘Girl Next Door’

It seems Kendra Wilkinson, the “sporty” Girl Next Door, has become an unwanted spokesperson for the Olive Garden.

Apparently, the Playboy model (and Hugh Hefner girlfriend) often talks about how much she loves the Italian-themed restaurant chain on her MySpace page and E! television series.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the Olive Garden is none-too-pleased with their vocal fan because she doesn’t meet the brand’s family image.

Officials from the company issued a “no comment.” However, their agency did have this to say: “I don’t feel comfortable talking about this…because it is a complicated issue for the brand,” says Michele Kay, EVP of Grey Global.

What’s most interesting to me is had the Olive Garden (or Grey) simply said, “we always appreciate support from all of our patrons ” or some other less scandalous comment, this would have remained a non-story. I mean there is hardly anything news-worthy in the fact that a restaurant chain appreciates patrons. But, by making their distaste clear, they’ve created a front page story in a major market daily and sent the blogosphere into a pro/con debate.

Incidentally, despite her current career in adult entertainment, Kendra is still reflecting the brand’s target identity. She told the WSJ, her love for the chain began in childhood. “I love the Olive Garden so much because I grew up going there,” she says. “That used to be the place we would go for Mother’s Day, for birthdays. My grandpa just died, and right after his funeral, we went to the Olive Garden.”

This certainly raises the issue of brands embracing endorsements contrary to their image. My opinion is that in this age of celeb-worship, a famous endorsement can never be a bad thing. In fact, I would think an unlikely brand advocate might attract new customers. After all, I don’t think Taco Bell suffered much when “melt-down” Britney continued to frequent their drive-through windows. It still kept their brand in the public eye and most likely sent some teens their way.

Regardless, this has become a terrific case study in the power of “no comment” and the “non-comment” making a non-story front page news.

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