Magazine article Marketing

BEYOND THE KITCHEN: Celebrity Chefs Have Become Brands in Their Own Right. What Qualities Do They Need to Last, Asks Robert Gray

Magazine article Marketing

BEYOND THE KITCHEN: Celebrity Chefs Have Become Brands in Their Own Right. What Qualities Do They Need to Last, Asks Robert Gray

Article excerpt

The concept of the celebrity chef is by no means new. A hundred years ago Auguste Escoffier was making French cuisine world-famous and some of the dishes he created, such as Peach Melba and Tournedos Rossini, remain culinary classics.

But while various haute cuisine links with the past remain intact, what it means to be a celebrity chef has undergone a staggering transformation.

An explosion in recipe book publishing, TV cookery shows and media attention on the country's most palate-pleasing restaurants has created an array of famous cooks.

A handful of chefs now have the same status and renown as actors and pop stars. Consumers are interested in how they behave and identify with them. Antony Worrall Thompson's autobiography, Raw, for instance, is selling steadily.

Sporting heroes and pop stars regularly endorse products and the unambiguous association with food and drink means a celebrity chef provides a promising platform on which a brand can be marketed.

As a result, in recent years a host of food and kitchen products carrying a celebrity chef's name have made their way on-shelf.

There are, however, difficulties in building brands of this kind. One is ensuring the longevity of a brand constructed around a personality - especially given the fickle nature of public opinion when it comes to the popularity of celebrities. Another is ensuring that if the brand has long-term success, it avoids over-extension.

Laura Haynes, director of brand consultancy Appetite, has some reservations as to the sustainability of most of the chef brands. 'We, like all other marketing consultancies, have spent years talking about personifying brands,' she says. 'But something makes me uncomfortable about what's going on here. Although the chefs are recognisable, allowing consumers to differentiate the products, some of the values are a bit thin.

'There's probably some social comment to be made about this phenomenon; maybe it is to do with consumers' insecurities about making choices.'

Undoubtedly, a celebrity chef brand has a head-start over a brand created from scratch with no public recognition. Yet the use of a celebrity chef hardly creates a safety net.

Esteemed Indian chef Madhur Jaffrey was once used as a brand by both food company Tilda and cookware manufacturer William Levene. Only the latter tie-up remains. So what must food brands that use celebrities do to ensure the associations not only survive, but thrive in the long term?

Loyd Grossman, the journalist and TV presenter behind the eponymous food brand, says that it takes far more than market research. 'Brand extensions have to be plausible,' he argues. 'The more closely you are identified with a brand, the easier it is to make sure it is plausible.'

Grossman says there is nothing new to giving a human face to a food brand, citing the example of fictional characters Uncle Ben and Betty Crocker that have in the past been used to bring a brand to life.

All the products bearing his name, Grossman points out, are true to what he wants the brand to stand for. 'The product has to have intrinsic values that the customer wants,' adds Grossman. 'If it does, it will outlive the transient nature of the TV show and the celebrity. There's a huge difference between a disparate bunch of products with someone's face slapped on and a brand.'

The Grossman brand has undoubtedly been a tremendous success, but ironically, Grossman is not even a chef. Neither was Linda McCartney.

What this demonstrates is that prosperity in the supermarket aisle has more to do with values and attributes than brilliance in the restaurant kitchen.

Jamie Oliver is an outstanding chef, but that is only one of the reasons for his success as a brand. There are a few chefs cooking in the UK's finest restaurants who are arguably streets ahead of Oliver in terms of innovation, presentation and their ability to summon mouthwatering feasts from the most inspired combination of ingredients. …

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