For chefs, key ingredient is long-term brand impact
Adweek’s annual food issue is out this month, examining the business of food, its place in our culture and the impact it has on marketing. Or rather, the impact marketing has on food.
It is certainly no new phenomenon, but the issue reminded me just how much today’s celebrity chefs seem to become more “celebrity” and less “chef” every day. I’m a little bit of a food geek, a wannabe foodie if you will. (I say “wannabe” because my skill level has not quite caught up to my interest level yet.) I read Bon Appétit, watch Top Chef and make trips to the farmer’s market for local produce and grass-fed beef. I’m fully aware this makes me one of the tens of millions of consumers fueling the food marketing machine, but call me crazy: To me, it’s still about the food.
The fact that Adweek even has an annual food issue is itself enlightening. Cooking and nutrition are huge moneymakers for both advertisers and industry pros like chefs and restaurateurs. I probably should not have been surprised, but when I came across an ad a few days ago for a particular fast food chain featuring the endorsement of a critically acclaimed chef, I was momentarily shocked. This person has worked around the world and run successful restaurants and yet here the chef was plastering their name across something that logically should be the antithesis of the culinary profession.
Why would a gourmet chef lend their name to something so… un-gourmet? I have some thoughts of answers to that question and none of them are particularly flattering, but this is not a new concept. Many chefs and organizations have built their brands on their passion for the integrity of the culinary arts but have eventually been seduced by the lucrative business of food. Even my beloved Bon Appétit is guilty, teaming up with Banana Republic and Open Table this summer to promote a new line of apparel.
These cross-industry promotional opportunities may bring these brands more revenue but, as a consumer, they irreparably damage my opinion of the brand itself. I might be picky, but once you’ve given your seal of approval to a fast food chain, I am probably not going to fork over (pun intended) $40 for your cookbook of healthy recipes. Like a betrayed girlfriend, I just don’t believe you anymore.
Organizations large and small make similar value judgments every day, weighing the financial benefits and the long-term costs (both financial and otherwise) of every business decision. Especially in a tough economy, it is hard to pause and think three steps down the road when decisions that impact your business need to be made now. However, adding one step to your decision making process – by asking: “How will this affect our brand, our vision for what we want this organization to be and do?” – will certainly pay off in the long run. No matter the outcome of that decision, at least you will have thought it through. Judging by some of their decisions, I am not sure many of today’s celebrity chefs can say as much.