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The Magnetic Celebrity Chef: Part 1

Posted by: Carrie Wasterlain on December 04, 2012

Giada De LaurentiisGiada de Laurentiis is the prototype for celebrity-chef branding success. She knows how to cook, but more importantly, she knows how to relate, and her warmth permeates the camera.

Fans adore her for her vibrant style and mega-watt smile. Giada feels approachable and real. She tells tales of her Italian upbringing, brings us with her as she buys ingredients at a nearby market and even lets her adorable daughter Jade take center-stage in the kitchen.

According to fans, Giada in the flesh seems just as familiar and good-natured as the celebrity they see on TV. The same goes for her presence on Twitter and Facebook, where she has acquired more than 700,000 followers and 280,000 likes, respectively.

Her bubbly personality carries through in her tweets. She creates warm conversations in 140 characters or less using exclamation points, posting attentive responses to her fans and providing a peek into her everyday life: "Gorgeous day in NYC…on my way to rehearsal for tomorrow's show! Excited to answer all ur Thanksgiving questions."

Consistent and engaging brand voice and messaging? Check. From her recipe titles to the fine details of her set’s kitchen design, to the post-cooking scenes where she and her girlfriends giggle over pasta with mouths full, her brand experience is predictably lovely – and predictably “Giada.”

So what draws us so strongly to culinary stars? What takes chefs like Bobby Flay and Ina Garten from the kitchen to stardom?

Bobby FlayConsider this the recipe for celebrity chef success: a pinch of food savvy, a heaping tablespoon of emotional connection and a generous dusting of Branding. Cooking shows have morphed into reality shows that are less about teaching viewers how to cook than about building likeable characters with good stories.

The straightforward cooking demos of Julia Child’s day have evolved into rich culinary adventures in which viewers can explore the culinary niches of highly branded chefs, each commanding his or her own style in the kitchen. Stylistic choices from filming style to environment increase the addiction factor for audiences; tight camera shots of vibrant dishes paired with similarly vivid, custom-designed kitchen settings heighten the viewer experience. Every choice, from blue kitchen walls to the style of the chef's outfit, is made with purpose, to build a unique brand identity for each chef personality.

The human connection may be the most important ingredient in a successful chef brand – or in any brand for that matter. Cooking shows, in particular, have capitalized on this idea, and they’re serving up chefs who really dig in to the social, cultural and emotional aspects of food. So what lessons can aspiring personal brands learn from these culinary superstars?

· Offer a personal glimpse

Cooking shows these days let viewers get to know their stars through more than the food. Paula Deen’s sons frequent her set, telling tales of their Mother's buttery inclinations. Giada prepares her delightful dishes for girlfriends who gossip around her patio. Newest personality Lee Drummon shows us what remote ranch life is all about (lots of cattle herding, juicy steaks and rich ol’ sweet “patay-tahs”). Food Network personalities bring us into their lives -- even if only temporarily -- allowing us to enjoy the cooking experience vicariously and making us feel as though we’ve been invited to join them at their dining room table.

· Personalize advice

Celebrity chefs offer more than sound cooking advice. They reveal the unique stories behind the recipes and techniques. Giada doles out tips picked up from her Italian grandfather and Ina Garten shares lessons she learned opening her first store in East Hampton. These personal tidbits not only make learning interesting – they make the chefs who share them relatable.

· Connect through many mediums

TV is where most celebrity chef brands start, but not where they end. New media brand platforms (Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr) provide the perfect platform to connect on another level. Meanwhile, live appearances and product endorsements further enhance chefs’ appeal to their fans.

As the limits of multimedia expand, and the potential of cooking channels like the Food Network grow, viewers will continue to demand more from their culinary role models. If brands like Giada’s continue to deliver honest and delicious experiences, receive they shall. And it will be a whole lot more than a recipe for the file box.

Human connection is clearly the key to a great celebrity chef brand. But as that brand expands, how can one ensure that personal touch doesn’t get lost in the mix? Check back next week for Part 2 in the Celebrity Chef series.

Carrie Wasterlain is an Associate, Verbal Identity at Interbrand New York.

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