Of all the socio-cultural "by-products" we've become accustomed to in a Facebook, Twitter and reality TV world, few touch our lives as regularly as the marriage of pop culture and food. Why? Because we're exposed to pop culture everyday, and we eat, everyday. I'm a foodie, and I run a liquor company. I see the impact of, and problems with, this strange marriage every day, but it's a marriage that can build brands and offer everyday consumers the foundation of a culinary education.
Case in point: Bravo's Top Chef. As far as creating industry superstars on par with Wolfgang Puck, Thomas Keller and Mario Batali, the show's batting average is far less than say, American Idol's. But an association with the show is creating buzz for Sam Talbot, the "celebrity" chef who has chopped vegetables for us on national television and is now opening a restaurant in one of downtown Manhattan's buzziest new hotel properties, the Mondrian Soho.
Talbot has dubbed his restaurant Imperial No. 9. Whether the restaurant becomes a ZAGAT phenomenon and the hottest reservation in town, or a casualty of the softer economy and tighter expense accounts, remains to be seen. In the past six months alone in Manhattan, six large, high profile restaurants from experienced restaurateurs have closed their doors. The buzz is that as a result, building owners want more reliable (read: chain, mass) restaurants occupying those spaces. Regardless, Talbot and Imperial No. 9 were born from the marriage of pop culture and food, and they're about to have their most important audition on the national stage.
First Lady Michelle Obama has just signed a book deal to write about gardening and healthy eating. The book, slated for next spring, will undoubtedly be a best-seller that dominates the media from CNN to Today to The View when it's released, creating many pop culture moments and increased interest in growing and eating your own food. Obesity has been one of her major causes, so you can expect lots of advice about the power of locally grown produce, healthful foods and recipes that keep you fit. Again, it's the marriage of pop culture and food. Few other administrations have been as entrenched in the power of pop culture as the Obama administration (remember his Facebook campaign in 2008?) and few other First Ladies have been more qualified to issue a message about healthier living through pop culture and social media. Book sales have been in decline for years but I expect this one to be a runaway best-seller.
More evidence of the impact of popular culture and food: a new generation of young, idealistic farmers who are as cool, stylish and educated as they are earnest, and dedicated to organic food and sustainable agriculture. The New York Times recently profiled the success and struggles of this new generation of growers at the beginning of the foodie chain, and it's exciting to see dramatic changes in such an important profession.
My own brand, VeeV, was recently recognized with an award for its impressive growth. One reason the brand grew, even during the recession? I believe we were able to leverage pop culture and food and drink in many facets of our marketing campaign, whether it involved celebrities or the continued trend in at-home organic gardening. If it weren't for the union of pop culture and food we might not have enjoyed early success with our brand, and I encourage anyone with the dream of a food or beverage brand to do the same: explore the pop-food culture phenom and how it connects to what people want.