How Cat Cora is squandering her personal brand

Cat Cora is one of my personal heroes.  She’s a tiny, fierce, talented little out of the closest lesbian mom world dominating celebrity business owner.  (In other words, everything we couldn’t get our of Jodie Foster.)

But there’s something about this photo of Cat, and this whole concept, that’s just wrong to me.  And I feel wrong about feeling that it’s wrong.  Allow me to esplanade:

The media and media consumers – so, you know, everybody – uses celebrities as content sources.  We use “celebrity news” as an excuse to keep talking about our fears and aspirations.   For what I’ll shorthand as “minority cultures,” our conversations are disproportionately large because there are way fewer celebs who are doing the specific things we want, and goddammmit, we want to be pretty and strong and happy like Ellen and Portia.

And that is why I loved, I clung!, to Cat Cora.  While I am admittedly a pedi-loving, champagne-swilling girlie girl myself, I’m also a cleaver-wielding entrepreneurial force in my own head.   I, and I think a lot of other women, gravitated to Cat because she was the shamelessly bad ass, no-nonsense leader on Iron Chef America we want permission to be.  So to see her buffed and polished into an anonymous catalog model just…hurts a little.

Thing is, it’s not like the woman doesn’t deserve it.  After 20 years of working her ass off in a hot kitchen to create a solid career and have four kids, who could begrudge her a glamorous photo shoot where she looks like  J. Crew model?  Let’s get real, I also want that!  But not from her.  I go to Cat for the sweat, the screaming, the shot of uzo.  That’s the personal brand she was building on Iron Chef America.  Watching her swing towards the easy-breezy supermom celebr-model with this advertising campaign and similar projects with Kraft, Macy’s and Electrolux, it makes me wonder, Do I agree with, or even understand, her perspective?   And as a self-aware marketing hack, I ask, Is she a trust broker?  Would I make purchases based on her recommendation?

It hurts me to say….probably not.   A check on Twitter reveals she has 11,500+ followers and is following 57.  Every tweet is a link is somehow marketing related, with no RTs or replies, in other words…a community that’s dead in the water.  Her site’s blog and her Facebook page reveal pretty much the same thing.  Cat Cora and her management team are making some huge mistakes in not engaging with the tens of thousands of people who want to engage with her.  The tweets with cutoff sentences, redundant material on Facebook and differing “about the author” info under some blog entries on her site show that she/they are being careless with the  three biggest platforms for creating loyal communities. For someone who’s gunning to be in every American household, there’s really no way to get to know Cat Cora.

I don’t want to come across like I’m harping on Cat personally.  It’s ridiculous to suggest that she, or anyone, should try to be the next David Liebovits or Frank Bruni and build followings of 30,000+ one person at a time.  Those guys write for a living and were made for Twitter.  What Cat  should do is HIRE A WRITER.  It’s OK to delegate.  In fact, it’s preferable to delegate, even if you’re well qualified to manage your social media strategy.  Believe it or not, I’ve done most of my business as a social media strategist for writers who could have done the writing, reading, monitoring and responding, but they knew they should focus on writing the next book and let someone else promote it.

Cat Cora’s conventional marketing for herself and her partners has done OK.  I believe she can even get away with mixing her beach babe advertising campaigns with her half-ponytail, no makeup in store demos, but she’s going to confuse and lose potential followers if she doesn’t develop a personality they can get to know. Social media is a strategy she can define and control for herself, uniting all of her different projects through a conversation about herself and her values.  Right now, Cat and her team are missing an opportunity to connect with tens – hundreds! – of thousands of fans like me who just want to get to know the real Cat Cora.

P.S. The other thorn in my ass about this is that it took me 15 minutes to find this freaking picture.  If you’re a HUGE CREDIT CARD COMPANY running a PROMOTION, maybe you should spend a couple bucks on SEO so people can actually find the photos you probably spent $20,000 shooting.

This entry was posted in Amy's Deep Thoughts, The Business of Relationships and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to How Cat Cora is squandering her personal brand

  1. Sarah Stickney says:

    You’re broaching a topic that I find really fascinating. I’ve grown up in a family where the “family business” is one of food. One thing I’ve always been taught to be proud of is that I not only come from a family of chefs, but a family of predominantly female chefs (though the chef with the most recognition is my Uncle). The culinary world is still a predominantly male one, but more and more women are being let into, and are flourishing in, the boy’s club.

    I have to wonder how involved Cat Cora is in developing and marketing her brand. It has been my observation and experience that in order to be respected by your kitchen staff (not to mention your peers, critics, etc) as a female chef, you have to be more of a “man” than your male counter parts. Cora’s “shamelessly bad ass, no-nonsense…half-ponytail, no makeup” persona is exactly what has helped her to climb the culinary ladder (plus her ability to cook awesome food). The problem comes in when you have marketing people that are trying to have come across as Rachel Ray and Giada de Laurentiis, because, you know, you can’t sell your products purely on the basis of being a bad ass chef, you have to be a sexy girly-girl too.

    I’d imagine that we aren’t hearing much from the real Cat Cora on the subject because there isn’t a whole lot of the real Cat Cora in it. The basic problem comes down to the very interesting sexist dichotomy that is found in the food world:
    Americans or, rather, what marketers call “Americans” want a man in their restaurant kitchens and a girly-girl in the kitchen at home. It’s okay and desirable to be a butch bad ass in the professional kitchen. It’s what’s going to get you taken seriously. But to sell to “Kraft, Macy’s and Electrolux”, or more pointedly, to get those brands to sell Cat Cora, she has to come across in a more accessibly sexy way.

    I personally find the lipstickless, ouzo drinking, sweating, commanding chef persona to be incredibly sexy. And honestly, I think that a lot of people like me also find that sexy. But, she’s got to show that you can cook all day and still look beautifully sweatless when your husband gets home to the immaculate meal you have made using your Cat Cora knife set, which eerily also makes your dining room look like you have been transported to Greece.

    I, for one, am usually red faced, sweating, and covered in flour/oil/etc when I finish cooking something amazing. If I’m not, I probably only made a sandwich.

  2. Casi says:

    I’ve never quite understood that dichotomy in a world where women make the vast majority of the marketing and purchasing decisions. We all won’t cook as well as Cat Cora (well, maybe you and Amy will… I’m working on it), and while I understand the importance of aspirational psychology in making purchase decisions (as well as the importance of the fantasy)… would it be revolutionary and successful or a total flop if the ads had Cat working her ass off in the kitchen and did still come out all sweaty and bad ass… and then whatever partner she has in the ad responded with just as much appreciation, acknowledgment and positive reinforcement as if she looked like she just got done with five makeup artists and a hair stylist?

    Also, Cat Cora is definitely hotter doing shots and running the kitchen.

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