Wigtown is a small Scottish village with around 10 shops – 8 selling books. One of its book shops even has a bed in it. It’s my kinda town.
Second-hand book shops are the closest thing to a time machine for me – you can step inside the autobiography section and be instantly transported back to a time when Martine McCutchen was top of the bestsellers list (2003).
Visiting the cookery section in one of these shops recently made me nostalgic for the 80s and 90s when TV cook Delia Smith was also at her height.
Before Nigella, Jamie and Gordon, Delia ruled the cookery channels with her soft voice, polite approach and traditional recipes. She measured things out by the teaspoon, and wasn’t afraid to be a bit posh. You can’t imagine Jamie Oliver saying “If you’ve ever been to the Caribbean, as I have…’ while delicately chopping a pineapple, and getting away with it.
Antony Worrall Thompson called her “the Volvo of the kitchen”, Egon Ronay labelled her work “the missionary position of cooking”. And that was fine. If you wanted something more exotic, you could switch to Floyd on France.
But her influence was huge. It became known as the ‘Delia effect’ – the mere mention of the word ‘cranberry’ in 1995 caused a stampede in supermarkets the next day, with sales rising by 200%.
I loved everything about her. Her programme was the perfect wedge between Wogan and EastEnders and I envied her impossibly ordered kitchen, her neat knitted cardies and matching earrings.
That was until 2005 when she went from being buttoned-up and starchy to tanked-up football fan overnight, and the image was shattered.
As owner of Norwich City football club, she took to the pitch during half time in an emotional outburst designed to encourage the team’s fans to show more support.
Taking the mic she yelled: “We need a 12th man here. Where are you? Where are you? Let’s be having youuuuuu. Come ooooooon!”
The trouble is, I can’t look at those cookery books in the same way now. I see the pre-2005 Delia as someone who doesn’t exist any more. Her brand aesthetic has gone: the safe predictability, the knitted cardies and matching earrings. I feel a little bit cheated.
May be it’s just the caveman in me. We’re selected to look out for danger by filtering out what’s expected so we can concentrate on anything untoward. Her inconsistency has made me wary.
However, perhaps I’m the only one. A quick Google and it seems as if the Delia effect remained, with Sainsbury’s, sales of cinnamon sticks up 200% during Christmas 2009.
But even if it’s not just me, in brand terms, inconsistency is never a good thing. Trust is hard to build but easy to break. If your website says one thing, but you act like someone else, it’s going to cause confusion and doubt. The more you repeat what you’re about – the more likely that is to have an impact.
So decide who you are and stick to it. Otherwise it could be a recipe for disaster.
Photo by Alexandra Kusper