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SF Chefs: Keeping Foodies Keen

Even young marketing whizzes who boast about being able to sell anything to anybody fall noticeably silent when it comes to publicizing food events in San Francisco. In a city packed with food blogs, apps and amateur cooks extraordinaire, successfully making your foodie event stand out truly separates the Iron Chefs from the Chef Boyardees.  

  • Branding
  • signage
  • Web site
  • advertising
  • marketing collateral
  • merchandise

“San Franciscans are food savvy – an audience that’s hard to please because they know a lot already,” says Claire Saccoccini, project manager of Noise 13’s branding campaign for SF Chefs – a prominent Bay Area food, wine and spirits festival. And selling that audience on SF Chefs required more than a few clever ads – it meant creating a brand that was as equally at home on billboards and badges, invitations and aprons.

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SF = Sell Fresh
Launched in 2008 by the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, SF Chefs provides a week-long tastefest each year where locals can take classes, attend seminars, and wine and dine with local farmers, chefs, winemakers and other culinary experts.

When Noise 13 came on board in 2012 to handle the event’s branding, they discovered that the look “wasn’t communicating all of the unique assets of the San Francisco food and beverage scene,” says Christine Lee, senior designer on the project. The branding used in previous years seemed to be sending out too many messages, and the logo wasn’t being used consistently across marketing materials.

A survey of local chefs, winemakers and mixologists soon revealed that SF Chefs also had been missing a key interest of Frisco foodies –fresh, seasonal produce, and a hunger for high-quality ingredients.

To convey those themes, Noise 13 used images of cleavers and other kitchen implements. Of course there were also the portraits of participating chefs, and the obligatory beauty shots of food and beverages designed to make the mouth water.

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Consistent But Not Boring
Since SF Chefs had multiple sponsors, it was important to make sure those sponsors also received their due. “You basically have these big sponsors that are paying for a lot of the material to have their name brandished everywhere,” says Lee. “That can often be difficult to do from a design perspective.”

As it turned out, the logo was the key to bringing order to this and everything else. The chalkboard-style logo, enclosed as it was in a container evocative of a chopping block, was separated from much of the sponsorship messages.

Designers also used words and images that described different elements of the festival as individual graphic elements outside the logo. The result was a more simplified, streamlined look.

Since the campaign incorporated so many different elements, one of the biggest challenges was “making sure we weren’t being too repetitive but also staying true to the brand so if people only saw one or two ads, they were understanding that it was part of the same event,” says Lee.

They created basic templates and ensured that the color palette and logo placement remained consistent across all materials. Then they made other changes to ensure variety.

For example, some ads or signs had food photos; others had chef portraits; still others made use of patterns. If everything looks the same, “it becomes redundant and repetitive,” Lee says. “If people start seeing the same thing over and over again, they’re not going to pay attention.”

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Lessons Learned
When it came time for the 2013 campaign, Noise 13 kept a similar overall look and feel to the year before, but stripped down some of the wording even more, relying again on images and photos to make the biggest impression. “We wanted to simplify it and make it punchier and more eye-catching,” says Lee.

Finally, like any big event, the greatest obstacle to creating a consistent identity for SF Chefs was simply accommodating every group that had a steak, rib or martini in the game. Never mind the Golden Gate Restaurant Association; Andrew Freeman and Co. handled public relations; Tannin Management was in charge of sponsor management; and Dominic Phillips Event Marketing oversaw execution of the event itself. And everyone had ideas about how it should be branded.

Says Lee, sensing the inevitability of the line before she delivers it, “There were a number of cooks in the kitchen.”

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Author: Tamara E. Holmes

Tamara E. Holmes is a freelance writer and editor who has written extensively about business, careers and success for such publications as Working Mother, Real Simple, and AARP Bulletin.

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