Content marketing did not exist in 1969 when Elizabeth David penned this care-instruction-cum-recipe pamphlet to hawk a product that was barely known in the UK at the time. David was as much literary figure as food writer. She eschewed cheap publicity and celebrity—something that food pundits say means she wouldn’t find a publisher today. The pressure to produce instantly shareable content is something she would not ‘Like’.
But other pundits are suggesting that this kind of collaboration between writer/artist and brand may be more valuable in future for those seeking a richer and more authentic audience response. We’ve seen the widespread celebration of those who have the insight to pick what will go viral as if this finger-on-the-pulse of the widest number of casual web-users is a trait we’d all hope to emulate. Whether we are reaching peak viral or not, the share-bait is increasingly unavoidable if you engage with social media. And it’s not just about cats. Previously reputable information sources are far from immune. There must be other battlegrounds for deeper attention.
A very literary content strategy
Elizabeth David, like many a modern celebrity chef, was in the merchandise business already, with an eponymous shop where she had Le Creuset to sell, including the Gauloise-cigarette-packet blue the company developed at her specific request. But she brought a formidable literary talent to the job of selling. As former Guardian food editor Matt Fort blogged (partly inspiring me to write this post):
‘She was as meticulous when writing advertising copy as she was in writing her articles and books.’
Just as Fort does, I’ll quote David’s introduction as an example of economy in style:
‘Some of the very first cooking utensils I ever owned were orange-red cast-iron casseroles lined with white enamel…. Everything I cooked seemed to turn out right. They never played me an unwelcome trick. They were cheerful and clean-looking. They saved me washing-up and storage space. They looked civilized on the table. My affection for them grew.’
Despite David’s early endorsement, by the late 1980s market penetration was still a paltry 5%, compared with 75% in France where they were considered an everyday object. But this narrow UK demographic was the authentic seed from which later success was to be built. When Saatchi & Saatchi took on the advertising brief for the new owners in 1989, these early adopters were defined by the firm as ‘intellectual’ and the preservation of their comfort with any new brand positioning was seen as central to success. Heading into a recession, Le Creuset sought to defend, and even extend, the high price point, and advertised aggressively when other cookware brands retreated. The pictorial magazine ads focused on the craftsmanship of the pot-makers in the Le Creuset foundry to echo the attention to craft that the core client base associated with its own cooking.
Saatchi extends the brand
The Saatchi campaign was successful in building the market presence we know today. Many of those units, as Saatchis observed, turned out not for use but kitchen display. All the same, the ads created the lifestyle image while reassuring the original ‘intellectual’ audience inspired by David, who themselves kept buying. Now, of course, you can get knock-offs in the same orange in supermarkets, good enough (when half-price) for your teenager to take to university and treat like an everyday item—the French way. Digital strategist Daniel Doedrich at the beginning of this year argued against native advertising, a content marketing trend starting in 2013 in places like Buzzfeed in which advertorial content attempts to blend indistinguishably into existing news streams. Rather than do this, Doedrich argues a better content strategy would reach out to artists and original content producers, a bit like Elizabeth David did herself in her day, you could say :-
‘Instead of using successful platforms as a promotion vehicle, you should excite consumers by creating unique content that relates closely to your brand and its values. One good example of this upcoming trend is Patagonia’s antidote to Black Friday. In a 27-minute film, the brand went against consumerism and promoted how garments become part of your experiences and thus develop into indispensable pieces of memory that you wear out rather than throwing them away.’
Appealing to the ‘intellectual’ streak that Saatchi identified around the Le Creuset early adopter, the Patagonia video is a full-length programme, artfully produced, with stories well told. It also starts with an iron works. Perhaps even Elizabeth David might approve.