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  • Posted by: Jennifer Vano on Monday, July 15 2013 05:33 PM | Comments (0)
    Bobby Deen

    We’ve all read the headlines lambasting Paula Deen for her recent, shall we say, media missteps. Missteps that cost her not only her contract with The Food Network but also partnerships with Target, Walmart, and Smithfield Foods.

    It’s a controversy that’s no doubt damaging to her brand — and potentially debilitating. Her quick-shift messaging strategy seems to have called her credibility into question more than it’s helped to clear her name.

    During her deposition, she seemingly casually admits to using racial slurs more than once, though acknowledges that it’s not a word that people “use as time goes on.” In her first apology, she begs for the audience’s forgiveness for the mistakes she made, but the video is edited three times — what was cut? In her second apology, she takes a more defensive stance, saying that the press has her all wrong, and that everybody, in her opinion, is equal. Then, later, in an interview with Matt Lauer, she admits to using the “n word,” but only once in her lifetime.

    She shows what appears to be genuine emotion at every step, but lacks the consistency to back it. And it’s consistency — for both individuals and brands — even if the truth isn’t pretty, that often can mean the difference between a mistake people can forgive and one they’ll never let you forget.

    Even so, thousands of fans have come to her defense on social media and at her restaurants, but a full comeback would require not only a new approach to messaging, but also a complete rebrand. She might have a chance if she abandons the narrative that has become interwoven with moments like her uncomfortable livestream interview with The New York Times in 2012 in which she discussed her plantation owner grandfather and had a controversial interaction with an African American friend. If she repositions herself as a regular gal who makes comfort food, she could potentially follow Tiger Woods’ footsteps, reentering her industry with some success, but likely never reclaiming her position as America’s favorite butter-slinger (read: cultural demigod).

    Bobby and PaulaBut what nobody seems to be talking about is how Paula’s fall from grace will affect her son, Bobby, who is also in the limelight. He’s the host of Not My Mama’s Meals on The Cooking Channel, (a Scripps Network Interactive channel, which also owns The Food Network). The show features the health-conscious Bobby giving his mom’s buttery, flaky, saucy dishes a fit-over.

    He’s a Southern gentlemen living a New Yorker’s life: he’ll remake his mom’s bread pudding with whole wheat donuts from The Donut Pub or pick up handmade sausage from a butcher in Williamsburg to recreate her chili dogs. But at the show’s core is his famous mom’s brand of cooking and narrative. Not only does his food depend on hers, he certainly shares her charm, regularly shares childhood memories, features clips from her show and measures his success on her reaction when she tastes his dishes at the end of every episode.

    It’s precisely that this marriage of his and her identity that makes his brand unique. He isn’t just cooking light; he’s attempting to retain the flavors and heritage of Paula Deen’s cooking while lightening up the ingredients to appeal to a more health-conscious, urban audience who craves the same comfort that her audience gets to enjoy: Three sticks of butter? Try some coconut oil plus applesauce instead.

    And let’s not forget the show’s name. Not My Mama’s Meals creates intrigue while providing enough information for potential viewers to understand that they’re getting a little bit of Paula every time they tune in. From start to finish, Paula’s an indispensible component of every episode, of the brand idea itself. If her empire of heart-attack-on-a-plate dishes falls, what will he have?

    So while his show will run as scheduled, for now, Bobby may have to reformat and sever ties within the show to ensure his brand has a long run regardless of his mama’s brand’s demise.

    Perhaps he can shift his own messaging, playing up exploring New York City rather than perpetuating memories tied to a complicated and controversial family story. But to seem authentic and ensure the evolution is seamless, he’ll have to make the changes incrementally. It will be a test of how strong a brand he’s created on his own, because there’s no doubt that being Paula Deen’s son has been key to his success.

    And the name of the show? It could still work, because even if he isn’t remaking Paula’s dishes, the show’s name signals a departure from the fare he grew up with. But we wouldn’t be surprised if The Cooking Channel eventually gives him a new show and a new start altogether.

    Do you think Bobby’s brand is strong enough to stand the test of time without his mama’s name to back it? Let us know in the comments below.

    Jennifer Vano is a Consultant in Verbal Identity for Interbrand New York.

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  • Posted by: Carrie Wasterlain on Thursday, December 20 2012 11:50 AM | Comments (0)

    As explored in Part 1 of this look at celebrity chef brands, this group of personal brands is growing at a mind-boggling rate thanks to the human connection these chefs are able to create with their fans. Cookbooks, talk shows and endorsements are just some of the signs that the celebrity chef is no longer confined to the TV studio kitchen.

    Mario Batali of Iron Chef America and PBS’ Spain… on the Road Again fame has, in addition to a number of award-winning restaurants, found success with his enterprise Eataly, which consumes a building the size of a full city block that used to house the New York Toy Center. Giada de Laurentis, the subject of Part 1, has recently included endorsing hair products to her résumé, flaunting her luscious locks in Clairol commercials.

    As personal chef brand empires continue to grow, are they at risk of losing their authenticity? Will they dilute that personal touch that was once the raison d'être for their popularity?

    Rachael Ray is a great example of just how extended these celebrity chef brands have become. Ray got her start teaching 30-minute cooking lessons to reluctant locals at an Albany market. That gig transitioned into a news segment on her local TV station.

    Not long after, Rachael Ray was offered a 30-minute slot on the Food Network, based on the theme of cooking simple and quick “30-Minute Meals” – and the premise of her brand was born. Since then, Ray has published more than a dozen “30-Minute Meal” cookbooks, hosted her own talk show (an “Oprah”-type show in which food plays a small role), built a brand of dog food, served as spokesperson for Dunkin Donuts, partnered with Ziploc to create the “Great American FreshOver Project,” founded a magazine – the list continues.

    According to Forbes, Ray rakes in just under $20 million a year. So what’s the ingredient behind her success? The answer is straightforward: as Ray’s empire has continued to grow, she’s leveraged her brand as a way to ensure her products have a purpose, her “personality” stays intact and each “brand extension” ties back to a consistent bottom line.

    Purposeful Products

    Rachel RayRay stands out as a celebrity chef who produces products that are both well made and born of stories and characteristics unique to her. Her range of offerings continues to increase, but every product has a clear place and purpose within the context of the Rachael Ray brand.

    Her “E-V-O-O” olive oil and branded “Garbage Bowl,” for instance, are both extensions of signature phrases she’s coined in her show (E-V-O-O stands for “extra virgin olive oil,” while the “garbage bowl” is a container she fills with discards while cooking to make for quicker cleanup), and her oval-shaped pasta pots are designed to fit side-by- side on the stove for easy emptying. These products signify “little pieces” of “Rachael.” Their names are similarly thoughtful.

    From the “Oven Lovin” bakeware set to the “Lazy Spoon and Ladle” duo to the “Lasagna Lover” tray, Ray's product names all pack a “Rachael Ray” punch. These offerings go beyond functionality; they reinforce the attributes of her brands as down-to-earth and efficient.

    Personality Infusion

    Some viewers balk at her catchphrases (E-V-O-O, “Sammies,” “Choup”) and her anti-“foodie” perspective. Whether you’re a fan of Ray-isms like “WOAH, how good does THIS look?” or not, Ray’s personality is the lynchpin to her success, and she hasn’t let the growth of her brand dilute it.

    Ray has carved out a unique personality niche for herself. Known for her characteristic abbreviations, bubbly excitement and down-home charisma, her colorful disposition even carries through, quite literally, to her funky, bright orange cookware line. Ray leverages this identity both on- and off-screen, inserting it into every product she launches and everything she does.

    Consistent Identity

    Some might raise their eyebrows at Ray’s potpourri of products and endorsements; she isn’t shy about capitalizing on merchandising partnerships, and has even explored opportunities that go beyond the realm of food. But so far, Ray has pulled it off, because she’s ensured these brand “extensions” link back to a deliberate bottom line.

    NutrishFor example, her introduction of “Nutrish” dog food, which donates its proceeds to animal welfare, supports her declared passion for pups and dedication to raising awareness. The brand is based off the model for her non-profit organization “Yum-O!,” which helps children and families learn about nutrition.

    Her endorsement of Dunkin Donuts supported healthier drinks – which reinforces her “everything in moderation” perspective. Above all, the foundation upon which her brand was built – “30-minute meals” – continues to be at the heart of her brand identity, remaining the centerpiece for recipe ideas, cookbook series and everything else she touches. Her original show has endured throughout the last decade of her brand expansion – further demonstrating the strength of her brand’s foundation.

    Personal brands can learn a lot from Ray, who proves that growing doesn’t necessarily lead to dilution. If these brands are going to expand – to test value beyond their original product -- they need to ensure their anchor brand is strong enough to support the same quality, authenticity and identity. Ray will have to continue to tread lightly as she gets farther away from food and closer to becoming a general lifestyle brand with items such as her recent accessories line.

    Maintaining credibility and authenticity is a concern, but so far Rachael Ray’s powerhouse brand has retained a focused power that’s worthy of recognition. Her 2.5 million talk show viewers and product consumers certainly think so.

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

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  • Posted by: Carrie Wasterlain on Tuesday, December 4 2012 04:44 PM | Comments (0)

    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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