Delicious Marketing Lessons From Anthony Bourdain's Voracious Brand

The foodie superstar and host of TV's No Reservations and Parts Unknown uses a "Grandma rule" to help his brand flourish. It has nothing to do with nagging, and everything to do with how to win fans for life.

I’m a voracious traveler. For the past 30 years, I’ve traversed nearly every state, trekked through Central American rainforests, swam the rough Pacific seas, and sampled Europe’s refined cultures.

Nothing, however, compares to Anthony Bourdain’s travel log. In case you do not subscribe to cable TV, Bourdain hosted a highly acclaimed show on The Travel Channel, No Reservations. He is a prolific food author and speaker with a penchant for food porn. He just landed a food-documentary series on CNN, Parts Unknown.

Bourdain doesn’t sample new cultures; he feasts on them. He lives in the moment with every episode. It’s a Zen experience to watch his shows. He is on a mission to help our society connect with and embrace other cultures through shared food experiences.

As a senior marketer, do you have the same voracious appetite for your organization and your customers?

Recently my husband and I attended Bourdain’s one-man lecture, Guts & Glory, in Washington D.C. Actually, it was more like a two-hour rant on the U.S. junk food industrial complex. He also shared some savory video nuggets from his 20-year global food journey. That’s where his mission became very clear to me. These highlights may give you some food for thought on how gutsy you are when it comes to expressing your personal and organizational brand:

1. Tell the truth. Now. Bourdain’s first vignette offered scathing words on the Paula Deen cooking empire.

According to Bourdain, Deen waited at least three years before telling her community about her diabetes. Reports indicate she was diagnosed in 2008. He also believes that she waited for the ink to dry on her sponsorship deal with drugmaker Novo Nordisk. In early 2012, she teamed with them to promote a Novo diabetes drug. In a 2012 interview with Eater, Bourdain challenged her decision: “When your signature dish is hamburger in between a doughnut, and you've been cheerfully selling this stuff knowing all along that you've got Type 2 Diabetes... It's in bad taste if nothing else. How long has she known? I suspect a very long time.” Delay and deception are the ingredients to launching a phony brand.

2. Make it personal. Bourdain dedicated the last portion of his lecture and No Reservations video montage to a topic that hits closer to home: teaching our children to eat healthy. For him, it’s personal. Bourdain quit smoking when his daughter was born six years ago, and his commitment to teaching her healthy eating habits soon followed. He told Grub Street New York that “I've gone with the black propaganda method. I've told my child that McDonald's is bad and causes horrifying health effects that are likely to make her unhealthy, physically unattractive, and marginalized at school. Scaring the hell out of a kid isn't so hard. Ronald McDonald is a bad guy in our house. He's not a friendly clown.”

3. Choose acceptance over austerity. I will be the first to admit that Bourdain’s presentation, at times, made me uncomfortable. He has “issues” with vegetarians who make rigid special menu requests prior to a hosted culinary gathering. During his many Vietnam treks, for example, Bourdain has always been aware that some natives serve dog. His host—an amputee who lost both legs to the stray landmines American troops had dropped during the Vietnam war—served Bourdain an unidentified meat with great kindness and hospitality. That’s when Bourdain enforced his personal “Grandma rule.” “When I was a boy, we always ate Thanksgiving dinner at Grandma’s. She served the same dry turkey every year. And even though I hated it, I smiled and said ‘thank you.’”

Choosing acceptance over rigor, sharing your personal story, and responding rapidly take guts. You need to tap into your “inner marketing guru” to find what’s true. Bourdain’s boundary-less brand beliefs will keep you on the road to brand glory. Bon appetit.

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[Image: Flickr user C. G. P. Grey]

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8 Comments

  • Elizabeth Presson

    Love this post, Lisa. Bourdain is relentlessly himself, which we should all work harder to do as marketers.

  • Lisa Nirell

    Elizabeth, thank you for your comments.While watching Bourdain's season finale of "Parts Unknown" last night, I realized how much he enriches our lives. His commentary and "in your face" documentary style are much needed to help Americans broaden our world view.

    CNN needs to extend his contract.

  • Lisa Nirell

    Christina, glad you found it valuable! Please return and visit my blog again soon.

  • Jerry Gibbons

    I have great admiration for Anthony Bourdain and really enjoy his shows.  I'd love to have the chance to spend some time with him.  He obviously has his own standards and rules and his guarded honesty is sincere and seems to be driven by his respect for others and their culture.  Good article.

  • Lisa Nirell

     Jerry, I am sure it would be a scintillating discussion over dinner with Anthony...glad you liked my post. Feel free to follow me through my RSS feeds or twitter (lisa_nirell). Cheers, Lisa

  • Lisa Nirell

     Thank you, Roberta.Feel free to share with your cultural and corporate culinaries!