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SXSW Chronicles: Food Porn Goes Digital - Day 5

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In a foodie town like Austin where food truck masters rival BBQ venues, it would be a missed opportunity if SXSWi didn't place a spotlight on a national obsession: the digital sharing of food. You know what I mean, whether it's on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or Pinterest, people love photographing and then sharing their meals with friends. What is it that drives individuals to broadcast what is otherwise a tactile experience where smell, taste and environment are paramount to enjoying the experience? Anthony Bourdain quipped today that he wonders if people snap shots of their food to later "touch themselves," during his panel at SXSWi.

Bourdain is both a culinary steward and entertainment personality who is seemingly obsessed with food, and technology. During his panel, which centered on his Emmy Award-winning program for the Travel Channel, No Reservations, Bourdain and others discussed what made the show digitally savvy. "Food porn works" is the main takeaway. People have a visceral response to food and, specifically, because Bourdain's program is about highlighting undiscovered gems around the globe, there's a sense of discovery that comes along with it that leads to the desire to share.

No Reservations is itself about sharing and providing experiences. These include late night inebriated chats (above) and "it's so wrong it's funny vignettes" (below). The notion of program content is further blurred because everyone on the program tweets, from the production management team to Bourdain himself. They have also invited Twitter personas including @DRUNKHULK with a six-digit Twitter following, but does not work for the program, to live-tweet (e.g. during #SXBourdain). The extensions of on-air personalities online allows viewers and fans of the show to interact with the personalities around the topic of food, and other interests, beyond the program's air-time.

The show's other digital assets include a Tumblr blog and YouTube channel. All aspects of the show are leveraged beyond the main screen allowing fans to interact with photos and footage that would not make it on-air. The show is inherently social because its personalities are empowered to share their globe-trotting experiences via social channels, and because it's in the program's DNA it doesn't come across as an add-on to the show but as part of its core.

Television is about content and therefore it's easy to see how a TV show could leverage digital to market its content. As it applies to brands in other areas, including consumer products, one takeaway from the panel is that consumers want content, and will share it if they enjoy it. How can you do that successfully? If you look at what Bourdain's doing, while he makes food (core product), his show's digital content is not just about food. Instead he has tapped into passion points for his audience and has provided them with tangential experiences using humor, and other elements, to connect with his audience online.

When brands look to engage with consumers online, it's important that they consider all available assets and brand-complimentary topics that can enhance the company's core product offering on social channels. The core product doesn't need to be the only focus of online content (e.g. don't just offer discounts). In adding non-marketing elements to the online content mix, brands can foster consumer advocates that can in turn become brand ambassadors based on a broader affinity with the company.

This post has been updated from a previously published version.

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