2 years ago
Generally speaking, I have a Golden Rule for my food preparation, which if I’m honest, can be a little restrictive to say the least. The rule itself goes like this: If any dish takes longer to prepare and cook than it does to eat, then it’s strictly off the menu. And that’s because anything else just seems to throw the effort/reward relationship completely out of balance for me.
I’ve yet to find too many kindred spirits though, and if the popularity of TV cookery and food programmes is anything to go by, I appear to be in a very tiny minority. But appearances can be deceptive!
It will probably never happen, but occasionally I have the odd fantasy about appearing on Masterchef (the UK version because that’s where I came from right?). The show’s hosts Greg Wallace and John Torode are whispering to each other conspiratorially off camera as I make my entrance…
“So John, I gather this Robinson bloke is something of a novice?”
“That’s right Greg, but I’m expecting great things from him today.
“Well he’s been talking himself up Greg, something about blowing all the other competitors away with his dish. He’s really up for it.”
“That sounds exciting John, I like a chef with confidence. So what’s he cooking for us today?”
John refers to his notes…
“For his main course, he’s preparing baked Haricots in a light tomato jus on a bed of grill-seared Ciabatta, and for his pudding he will be serving a fermented milk and summer fruit thickening, presented in a foil preserved crock. This should be interesting; I can’t wait to see how he pods the Haricots… wait a minute… what the hell’s he doing with that can opener?”
“It looks like he’s got a tin with a bright blue label there, John. Can you make out the lettering on the side? H… E… I…”
And then John would refer back to his notes and the penny would drop…
“Strike me down with a Didgeridoo Greg, the shyster’s doing us beans on toast and ripping the lid off a strawberry yoghurt carton!”
Cooking is huge business on TV these days. Aside from Masterchef you’ve got the likes of Come Dine With Me, Ready Steady Cook, The Great British Bake Off, Hell’s Kitchen, Two Fat Ladies, The Hairy Bikers, Two Greedy Italians… and myriad series and shows featuring the likes of Gordon Ramsay, Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson, Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall, and Heston Blumenthal.
And all of this is a bit puzzling to me – and not just because I don’t cook. You see, at first glance it doesn’t make sense. It’s a bit like radio conjuring. The main senses impacted upon by the activity don’t come into play. You can’t taste anything through your TV. You can’t smell anything through your TV. All you can do is look and listen. And to add to the confusion, the effect on the audience’s cooking and eating habits is nowhere near as great as you’d expect from the number of people watching. We (the UK) are still a nation of take away and convenience food addicts.
So why the popularity, and what’s going on?
The answer tells us something important about human psychology, in as much as what really interests us, and ultimately what you need to do if you want to get people’s attention and draw them towards your business, product or service.
Although there is a fair amount of interest in food and cookery, it’s at a much lower level than the viewing figures for the shows would actually suggest. In most of the popular programmes, food and cooking are little more than a vehicle for serving up (did you see what I did there?) what people are much more widely fascinated by – theatre, drama, characters and personality.
The success of Masterchef is partly due to the food and cookery content, but much of the audience tunes in for something else – personalities, drama and jeopardy (Will the dish work out or be a disaster… who will be knocked out… who will cope and who will crumble?)
Come Dine With Me is more about the interaction and conflict between the competitors, than it is about the food. Anything with our Mega Chefs Gordon, Jamie or Nigella is driven more by their personalities and enthusiasm. And that means that a large proportion of the audience tune-in just to see them, rather than to get cookery tips that they’ll never ever act upon.
In fact, select any cookery or food programme on TV and you will find either drama or personalities holding the whole thing together. So what’s the connection? It’s not about the food… it’s not about cookery… almost nine times out of ten it’s about the people! And that’s because people are far more interested in other people than they are in anything else. If they do have an interest in other things, you can bet your bottom dollar that it’s at its strongest when there’s a connection with a human story, drama or personality.
People come first. Other stuff comes a very poor second.
This has huge implications for anyone marketing products and services. If you attempt to sell things by talking about the product or service in isolation, you’ll lose a large part of your audience straight away. It would be a bit like a cookery show without the format or the characters. The most successful marketing does what the most successful cookery shows do… it creates personalities, it creates stories with a human angle, and it places the ‘product‘ in a wholly human context. It gives it life.
So whatever you’re selling, give some thought to how you can bring it to life through stories, drama and interesting characters. How was your business formed? What difficulties or pieces of luck have you experienced along the way? What characters or personalities have been connected with your business or product? The answers to these types of questions are what can raise your marketing from the banal to the barnstorming.
Remember this one thing and you’ll multiply your chances of success every time. Simon Cowell has made a whole career out of it. His millions are there because he knows that...
People are interested in themselves first, other people second… and what you want them to buy, a very poor third.
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