Enduring images

bettyadWhy is the spring so very busy and the winter so very boring? The weekend before last I could have gone to a slow food dinner, a posh lunch made by a celebrity chef, an afternoon symphony and to the Culinary Landmarks Conference. But I didn’t go to any of these events. Instead, I took two young teenagers to see X-Men Origins, grocery shopped, tried a recipe from the award-winning A16 Cookbook and reflected wistfully about the life of leisure I’m leading in a parallel universe. To be honest, I had a great weekend but I would be lying if I didn’t admit to wanting more hours or days in the weekend so that I could do all the cool stuff I missed as well.

Although I didn’t get to go to the conference, I did get a chance to have a phone interview with the very fascinating Kristen Hardie, a featured speaker and – get this – a PHD candidate immersed in the study of Betty Crocker and other fictitious food brand characters.

I asked her if she thought imaginary brand icons were passé. After all the clout of celebrity endorsement seems all-powerful and “authenticity” and “transparency” are food business buzzwords my clients use on a daily basis:

“Hopefully not,” she said. “These icons do offer a security and myth-making opportunity which people like to buy into.”

What do you think? Do you agree with Kristen Hardie and QSR magazine that celebrity brand icons are too changeable to outlast the power of the never-aging Betty Crocker and eternally-smiling and patient looking Uncle Ben?


7 Responses to Enduring images

  1. I think it all depends on your food philosophy. Betty Crocker and Aunt Jemima don’t do it for me. If anything, they are a big turn off for me. But then I don’t buy mixes.

    While celebrity brands may be changeable, some human culinary icons have staying power. Alice Waters and Julia Child are just as talked about today as 20 years ago. But they appeal to a different style of cook.

  2. Liz Driver says:

    Brand icons can be used for great products, e.g., “County Crackers” made in Prince Edward County. The baker uses a vintage photograph of her family to identify the brand. The family photograph re-inforces the tasting experience. The crackers really taste homemade in the best sense.

    When I first tried the crackers, I didn’t know whether they would taste good, but I did like them and I also enjoyed the family photograph, so now I am bonded to the brand icon for “County Crackers.”

    I should add that I have NOT bonded to Betty Crocker or Aunt Jemima, both American icons for industrial products! I have always been attracted to the 1940s image of Rita Martin, created by Toronto artist Rex Woods, for Canadian Robin Hood Flour. She looks strong and elegant — like someone I would aspire to be, and she promoted the basic ingredient of flour, a staple in the kitchen (not a cake mix).

  3. Most celebrity chefs are as fictitious as Betty Crocker. Old Betty gets a corporate makeover now and again, and so do the celebrity chefs.

  4. Diva says:

    I don’t know, to me there’s something kind of charming about the old fashioned brand icons. I couldn’t tell you the last time I made or had Uncle Ben’s rice … but there’s something comforting about its look nonetheless – at least to me. I couldn’t care less about celebrity endorsements, chef or otherwise, but show me a picture like the one atop your post and I’m charmed.

  5. Natashya says:

    I like the old icons too. And they are less likely to have a sex/financial/violence/drug or alcohol scandal to boot them out of their endorsement contracts. Or maybe I speak too soon.

  6. cheryl says:

    Why can’t food just be marketed based on its own merits? Why does it have to be endorsed at all?

  7. danamccauley says:

    Great insights everyone – as usual!

    I’m surprised no one commented on the retro ad I used as the picture today. I just love it!

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