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.