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5 Marketing Lessons From Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution

I used to dream of a good marketing TV show. Not one that makes the world of marketing into a scripted drama, like Mad Men. Or one that pretends to be about business but actually ends up being about relationships and emotional conflict like The Apprentice quickly became. The Shark Tank on ABC comes close, as up-and-coming entrepreneurs try to sell their ideas for funding to a group of ruthless investors … but even that format is a bit abstract when it comes to more of the day to day reality of marketing.

Recently I've gotten hooked on an unlikely program – a reality TV show about a British chef who is trying to convert the unhealthiest city in America (Huntington, West Virginia) to be more health conscious about the food they eat. Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution is a show about a quest Jamie Oliver is on to educate America about the food we eat, the dangers of processed food and how to cook healthy. He won the TED Prize earlier this year for the idea and is now fighting his battle through a TV program on ABC.


The show has all the real life appeal that drives viewers to watch reality programs – along with the story of a man on a mission usually reserved for documentary films. Along the way, the show is rapidly becoming a brilliant case study in social marketing and how to change beliefs. The last episode which aired this past week showed Jamie making a bet with a local radio DJ in Huntington that he could get 1000 people in the city to cook healthy in 5 days. Over the first few episodes, you also saw Jamie helping school "lunch ladies" to make healthier food for schoolchildren and working with a small group of high school students on reinventing their lunch menus.

If you do any sort of cause related marketing, or have an interest in changing the world in your own way … I highly recommend watching this show. Here are a few initial marketing lessons that I'm taking away from the program over just a handful of the first episodes:

  1. Set an impossible goal. Jamie has already set what may be the most ambitious goal ever – to change the way the entire country of America eats. The way he initially brought it to life, though, was to focus on educating what has been called the unhealthiest city in America – Huntington, West Virginia. By choosing a seemingly unchangeable city where more than 50% of adults are obese, he created a goal that seemed unreachable. When you have a goal like that, you become an underdog and if there is one truth of human behaviour (especially in America), it is that you can't help but cheer for the underdog.
  2. Put in the hard time for your cause. One of the most unique things about Jamie's Revolution is that he is fully invested in the first goal of changing Huntington – spending at least two months (and perhaps longer) living and working in the city. By being there every day and understanding the community, he is able to find the right influencers who matter to help him spread his message, and (more importantly) to build some credibility as someone invested in the city rather than an outsider focused on quick results.
  3. Build your own evangelists. By being in the city for an extended period of time, Jamie was able to create his own groups of supporters. This was important when he launched his crusade to teach 1000 people to cook in a week because he already had people in the community who would speak on his behalf and help recruit others.
  4. Convert your biggest enemy. Central to his early successes was how he understood early on that converting his biggest detractor would be a necessity towards converting the rest of the city … particularly because this individual happened to be the host of the largest local radio program. So instead of focusing on those who might be more "influential" such as the Mayor or Governor, he focused on someone who could have an even bigger impact if he could change his perceptions.
  5. Don't count on one campaign (or focus on one demographic). This may be the most valuable lesson to take away from the program. In most cases for marketing campaigns, you choose a target audience and build a campaign around that. Jamie, on the other hand, has focused on Elementary schools, gone to a college campus to start a flash mob, ventured into people's homes to interact personally with them, and even taught a group of steel workers how to cook. By speaking to multiple groups at the same time, he is effectively building his revolution beyond just one group. Ultimately, that's what a revolution will take.

Video of the Flash Mob:

9 thoughts on “5 Marketing Lessons From Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution”

  1. Rohit,

    Interesting post – I have been watching this show because I have enjoyed Jamie’s earlier shows on FoodTV but I have to admit that I haven’t been watching the show for marketing advice so your post got me thinking…

    Unfortunately, after going back over the episodes, I wanted to add the following marketing concerns as a way of giving the show a tag team, pro and con evaluation.

    So, here are a four questions/concerns that have crossed my mind while watching the show:

    First, what is ‘success’? There doesn’t seem to be a clearly defined, measurable objective for success.

    Second, who is the target audience – and what segments exist within? He seems to have targeted everyone in Huntington which seems a little too broad. Some are obese, others are overweight, and some are even eating well and exercising – do these segments have different needs and expectations for Jamie?

    This next one might just be me – but what exactly is he offering of value to this unmet need? Is he educating the entire town on healthy food choices – and if so, why did he fail to teach the children when they couldn’t identify fruits and vegies in the classroom? Or is he teaching everyone how to stir fry the same dish – which seems to have been the goal of the episode involving the bet with the DJ.

    Having a unique, valuable product (solution) to an unmet need is an important part of marketing – and I am not sure I see a valuable product yet.

    In one of the first two episodes, he gave a family menus and food – then left them alone. When he returns, he notices the food hasn’t been eaten and he has concerns about the family’s actual meals. A great chance to build an evangelist but instead he seemed to have taken the easiest path – here, go do it yourself.

    Fourth, what research did he do prior to entering the market with a ‘solution’? Based on his failures in the school cafeteria (lots of food tossed out and uneaten while going over budget), it seems as though he has ignored his audience. In recent episodes, the kids appear to be eating more of his food – but according to the school district employees, he has blown the budget. Price is an important part of marketing – and if he can’t provide the solution at the right price, few will buy it.

    Well, sorry to focus on the ‘less than positive’ aspects of the show – but there seem to be plenty of good (and not so good) lessons in the show!


  2. From what I remember of his UK campaign, you can add in a 6th:

    6) Some People Just Won’t Get It!

    Seriously, parents were pushing junk food through the school gates so that their precious children wouldn’t have to face the horrors of salad or pasta. The mind boggles.

  3. Hi Pat,

    Thanks for taking the time to share this comment. I imagine others will probably be thinking many of the same things you were in reading this post so I’m glad you shared them here. Some of your points are totally fair to call out … here are my thoughts:

    1. On the broadest level, the metric for success of any revolution is to inspire change. More specifically, a part of his goal seems to be to bring about a change in how school lunches are prepared by educating people and kids more about the foods they eat.

    2. It does indeed seem that his target audience is everyone in Huntington and that goes against everything we usually are taught. And yet by targeting steel workers and elementary schools at the same time, he manages to reach disconnected groups with the same message. I would argue that his targeting was not in a particular demographic, but in a region. He decided to influence EVERYONE in a town of 50,000 people. If you compare that target audience to a traditional demographic of women 25-34 across America you’d probably find he has a much more defined target audience than most marketers usually do.

    3. The value he seems to be offering is based on his premise that the more you know about food, cooking and where your food comes from, the more likely you are to eat healthier. It is the same theory that is driving states like California to require restaurant menus to list the calories and fat that every one of their menu items have. If people can learn that cooking is easier than it seems, they will be more inclined to eat healthier and less processed foods. The number of people who cook because they love to seems to be dwindling. Who better to help people discover (or rediscover) the fun in cooking than a chef?

    4. Your last point about the budget is probably the biggest issue that the show is raising – the perception (and truth in many cases) that eating healthy is more expensive and unaffordable many times. From the previews, this seems to be the issue that next week’s episode turns to, particularly when it comes to school lunches. I’ll be interested to see how he manages to fight this barrier because it is likely the toughest thing standing in the way of a real food revolution … giving American families the real sense that they can afford it.

  4. Great article Rohit,

    I think Food revolution is an excellent case study to analyze closely and take your own conclusions about what may and may not work on a social media campaign being driven with similar goals as Jamie´s business.

    I loved your point about Build your own evangelists!

  5. Jamie’s great way to physically interact with target audience at colleges, schools or at homes, truly impressive. It is really a hard and time consuming way but a undaunted will can make it possible, you are required a great patience cuz some times you can face heart broken words from the live audience specially when talking to young ones who don’t took many thing seriously.

  6. Jamie’s Food revolution seems to be getting better and better, I saw him interviewed on Fox the other day and the guy had both talent and imagination. His influence amongst all these marketing groups and across soci-economic levels does seem to be growing by the year. Any
    book publishers worth their salt would snap him up!


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Rohit is the author of 8 books on trends, the future of business, building a more human brand with storytelling and how to create a more diverse and inclusive world.

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