Enduring images

May 21, 2009

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?

Afraid of baking?

February 26, 2008

Betty Crocker circa 1996My entire life, I’ve been told by friends and acquaintances that I look like other people’s sisters, cousins and neighbours. But, I didn’t realize how truly average-looking I am until I was hired to be the spokesperson for Betty Crocker in Canada. I was attracted to working with the Betty team because I so often meet people who are freaked out by baking. My hope was that by getting them into the kitchen with mixes and tubs of frosting, they’d gain confidence and end up cooking more of all kinds of foods on a regular basis.

A few weeks after we made our agreement, I was in a meeting discussing how we could make videos that would teach people basic baking skills when one of the marketing folks came in with a copy of the current picture of the fictitious (yet much-loved!) Betty. Although this picture was developed in 1996 when I was only 30 years old, this person easily could be my older, slightly more conservative, sister.

What’s truly telling is how the latest incarnation of Betty came to be. Her picture is the product of a computer averaging exercise that blended the faces of women who embody the Betty Crocker core values. You know, qualities like valuing family, prioritizing sharing meals and stuff like that. Specifically, the designers scanned all of these women’s pictures, blended them together into a composite and created a picture of the quintessential Betty. In other words, she’s your average woman. Just like me!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not unhappy being average-looking. In fact, I think it has a lot to do with why I’m so often invited to be a TV guest. I look like so many people that almost everyone can relate to me. The happy result is that viewers can see themselves cooking the foods I demonstrate on air and cook more as a result. In a way, being average is my gift. Don’t buy it? Consider this: good ol’ average Betty Crocker is one of Ad Age magazine’s top 10 advertising icons.