Mark Lowe on brands

Founding Partner at Third City, writing about how brands are coping in the social age.

5 November 2013 - 9:39am | posted by | 9 comments

Gordon Ramsay vs Jamie Oliver: One might be a better chef, but the other is a far superior brand builder

Jamie vs Gordon: who has the better brand?Jamie vs Gordon: who has the better brand?

Subject as it is to human weakness, building a brand around one man (or woman) is fraught with danger. To paraphrase David Ogilvy, products have personalities that the market can make or break. If the product is a personality, then implosion always threatens, as Tiger Woods has shown us so graphically.

In the macho world of celebrity cheffery we find an excellent case study in the pitfalls of personal brand-building: Gordon Ramsay vs Jamie Oliver.

On paper, Gordon wins this fight. He edges it in the charisma department and a clutch of Michelin stars tell us that he’d kill Jamie in a cook-off. But despite this personal magnetism, or perhaps because of it, his brand and business struggle.

For evidence, look at the regular PR horror show that is his press cuttings book, with its tales of tax evasion and family feuds. And despite all the glitz around new restaurant openings, Ramsay always gives the impression of being spread too thinly, with an inconsistent product portfolio that belies his on-screen control-freakery (if you don’t believe me, check out the Narrow on TripAdvisor).

I don’t have first-hand experience of Gordon’s marketing operation, but it doesn’t take a genius to work out that the desire to control is the root of the problem. His abortive partnership with David Beckham in the Union Street Cafe suggests that he’s trying to be both product and marketing director at the same time, which can only end badly.

Contrast this with Jamie’s more laid-back demeanor, but don’t be fooled by it. His marketing operation is characterised by iron discipline, enabling his brand to extend beyond books and TV to include restaurants, events, cookery schools and lifestyle products without seeming to be overstretched.

And Jamie has another crucial thing that Gordon seems to lack: a mission. You might not like it, but his push to change the way people eat gives him a campaigning platform that elevates him above petty tabloid personality politics.

To deploy a bit of theory, brand Oliver demonstrates a true ‘system approach’ to marketing, with a consistent message played out through business, brand, behavior, content, channel and product. As Jamie presumably realises, it takes a big team to deliver this, of which he is just one important part.

Meanwhile Gordon’s mission seems to be, well, to carry on being Gordon; a problem, because the cult of personality doesn’t always make for good business.

Mark Lowe is a founding partner at Third City. Follow him on Twitter @markrlowe


5 Nov 2013 - 10:13

Have you compared the Ferrari of cusine (Gordon Ramsay) with that broken-down jalopy of Jamie Oliver ... comparison impossible because Jamie Oliver will never be good in the kitchen or as a conductor as a chef Ramsay!

5 Nov 2013 - 10:46

hey @debbyvaccaro3 I'm inclined to agree with you, but I'm talking about marketing not cooking. Jamie has a brand strategy, Gordon just has tactics

5 Nov 2013 - 13:29
stephen_newton's picture

@debbyvaccaro3 doesn't @markrlowe make precisely this point in his piece, before going on to ask why -- given Ramsay is the better chef -- Oliver wins hands-down on marketing?

5 Nov 2013 - 14:00
philt17817's picture

I ate in Gordon's restaurant in Prague (before he cut his losses) and it was crap! So, he might be able to cook himself but he doesn't seem able to replicate what he does across a number of venues.

Jamie's cooking standards may be less lofty, but he's consistent and that's rule #1 of brand building.

5 Nov 2013 - 22:48
carin15850's picture

Gordon's brand is entertainment, while Jamie's is about lifestyle, community, changing the world AND amazing food!

6 Nov 2013 - 16:12
duh_sponge's picture

Arrrggghhh - celebrity chefs - is there anything worse? They're like self-absorbed, maniacal toddlers - sadly without the hope of growing out of it.

I long for the day when cooking falls off the 'trends' list like a cow on a tightrope and celebrity chefs disappear from our lives like a fart being released in to the wilds.

7 Nov 2013 - 00:15
crysm10025's picture

Honestly, I love both the guys. Could not care what they dish out in their joints, as long as they keep sharing videos on YouTube, thus making us better cooks for the family. That's good enough for me.

7 Nov 2013 - 14:27
allis15224's picture

For me it's that Jamie Oliver is friend while Gordon Ramsay is foe. Perhaps this is because GR's introduction to North America was through Hell's Kitchen. It left me thinking, sure I'd like to eat his food, but I wouldn't want him to teach me to cook! I just can't imagine buying Gordon Ramsay's product or cookbooks. Jamie Oliver on the other hand, I've got the app, the cookbooks, I follow him on Twitter, I've gone to his cooking courses and so on.

7 Nov 2013 - 15:28
henry17894's picture

What about Nigella?


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