Monday, March 29, 2010

The Price of Fame

It was reported recently that Paul Rankin, Northern Irish celebrity chef, familiar from his regular appearances on TV, is also fairly big in FMCG. His Rankin Selection brand, including such products as pork sausages, soda bread and potato farls, has a turnover of £30 million per year. Coming in the week that Fred Perry announced that Amy Winehouse is designing a line of clothing, it got us thinking about the power of celebrity branding versus design.

Celebrity licenses are an awkward proposition for packaging designers – they are rarely conducive to great creativity, often not much more sophisticated than sticking a familiar face in question on the pack alongside the product itself. If this approach sells more product than our meticulously crafted designs then what does that say about the value of creativity? The reality is that celebrity is volatile, as Tiger Woods has recently proven. Celebrities are brands, and when they move into the food and drink market their brands need to be managed and protected just like any other.

Gordon Ramsay’s retail presence extends to a couple of chocolate selections, which by his own admission he does not rate. It is unlikely that the people at Kraft, surveying their newly acquired Cadbury brands, will be losing sleep. Jamie Oliver, on the other hand, has developed a portfolio of sub-brands to enable him to extend into multiple different categories, all of them a neat fit with his personality and values.

Of the top products of last year, reported in The Grocer in December, the only celebrity-endorsed brands are Lloyd Grossman in the cooking sauces category, and Ainsley Harriott Cup Soup, comfortably outsold by Batchelors. Powdered Cup Soup seems like an odd choice for a chef, but with Ainsley’s reputation for simplifying – witness his Fairy Power Spray ad campaign – there is a link. The varieties on offer are sufficiently adventurous to justify the celebrity tag. But brands like Phileas Fogg or New Covent Garden are equally well placed to guide consumers into new territory. And they come without the hassle (and price tag) of a celebrity license.

At the Grocer Food and Drink Awards, Ainsley’s Thai Chicken & Lemongrass Cup Soup, and Marco Pierre White’s Glorious, lost out to New Covent Garden’s Beef & Irish Stout in the soup category. Glorious also lost out in Chilled Savoury to Mash Direct. James Martin Belgian Chocolate Fondant Mix finished behind Mrs Crimble’s Gluten Free Bread in Bakery. The winners were selected not just based on the jury’s opinions, but also on the results of an online research programme using a consumer panel.

This would seem to suggest that genuine innovation and high-quality design can win out over celebrity endorsement. If you can combine the two, as Oliver’s has done, then you are on to a winner. But as far as Amy Winehouse branching out into other artistic endeavours goes, our response, to quote the lady in question, would have to be “No, no, no.”

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