Tradition still touches a nerve

A common branding objective is modernisation. Many is the brand that teams feel is out-dated, old fashioned and in need of a make-over. Well, the artilce I read in the Daily Telegraph suggests that there is still a place for sticking to traditional values.

The new cook book from Delia Smith, "How Cheat at Cooking", is set to re-establish her as the UK’s fave celebrity chef. Advance orders for the book, her first in 4 years, have out-stripped those of new (though not so new now) pretenders like Nigella Lawson and Jamie Oliver. The book is number 1 on Amazon.

For those non-UK folk who don’t know Delia, she is the reference in traditional cooking. Now 66 years old, she is rather prim and proper, and even a bit dull, in contrast to the youthful exuberance of Jamie and the sexy siren that is Nigella. I remember a branding project where the team contrasted the regimented, precise approach of Delia ("add 5g of basil and cook for 16 minutes") with the free-wheeling, liberated style of Jamie ("chuck in a load of basil, and stick it on the stove! Lovely jubbly!"). The team in question of course wanted to be like Jamie, not Delia.

But its Delia who in fact has the longevity. She has sold in total 18 million books. And whenever she recommends a product in her books on on TV, sales sky-rocket. The article reports how a recommendation for a metal pan from Lune Metal Products boosted sales to such a degree that it rescued the company from going bust.

So, what can we learn from the enduring success of Delia?

1. Traditional values = an anchor in a turbulent world
In a mad, modern world we aspire to some traditional values, even though our behaviour doesn’t always match up to these aspirations. So, we watch Supernanny taming tear-away toddlers and wish our kids were more polite and well behaved; but bribe the kids to keep quiet so we can watch it in peace. We buy millions of copies of "The Dangerous Boys Club", which gives tips on traditional passtimes like climbing trees and making catapults, but buy the kids a Nintetndo Wi for Xmas.

2. Avoid being "Granny in a mini skirt"
This is the problem you get when an old-fashioned brand tries to update its clothes (design and advertising) but still stays the same old product or service underneath. Delia has resisted this temptation. Rather than trying to update her way of dressing or doing her hair, in a futile attempt to imitate sex goddess Nigella, she has stayed true to herself. And we love her for it.

3.Zig when the world zags

When the whole of business is going in one direction, there is normally an opportunity to go the other way. A trend is only a trend, not the whole market, and the desire to be different means there will be consumers who don’t want the new and trendy. So, sales of salad are up, but so are sales of burgers at Mc Donald’s. Sales of iPods are booming, but there is a revival of vinyl records as well. And when cooking is about young, trendy, fashionable chefs there’s still place for good, old Aunty Delia.

4. Look back at what made you famous
Companies spend a lot of time looking forward at future trends. But it can also pay to look back at what made a brand famous. In the case of Delia, How to Cheat at Cooking is not a new book. Its a re-vamped edition of her very first book that came out in 1971. This can work for brands as well. You can look back at your packaging, advertising and promotion and maybe find a hidden gem that can be dusted off, polished and re-issued, just like Delia.

Perhaps its time that brand teams ripped out the pages of their brand books with the cheeky chappie face of Jamie to illustrate their desired personality (hands up, I’ve used him more than once) and replaced them with the rather more severe Delia?