The Rachael Ray brand exploits Rachael Ray, the individual, as a branded personality, to project a lifestyle on their consumers. Her image as an everyday woman, who is not afraid to be playful and feminine, resonates with and inspires the eager-to-learn home cook, while also stirring up disdain for her quirks and personality. The television food star market was dominated by the waspy Martha Stewart, up until her Enron scandal in 2003. Enter Rachael Ray. An untrained home cook from Upstate New York emerged in 2001 and brought an accessible and achievable lifestyle for the everyday woman. Ray’s programs 30 Minute Meals and $40 a Day looked to reach the consumer who is budget and time conscious. 30 Minute Meals has Rachael encouraging her viewers to make meals that take only 30 minutes to prepare, cook, and plate. In $40 a Day, Rachael travels to different cities and looks for an entire day’s worth of delish and affordable meals for under $40. While Martha Stewart projected ceremonial perfection, Rachael Ray’s brand speaks to a “get it done” and “close enough is good enough” mind-set of the modern woman. This modern woman’s domestic duties are reflected in Lury’s Consumer Culture, ““While he is watching television, she is getting dinner. Even when everyone is seated at the dinner table, the woman is likely to be the one serving the food. She is the facilitator of other people’s consumption as well as an active consumer in her own right” (43).


 

Brand Philosophy & Mission

Not snooty, not too adventurous with food trends, Rachael Ray’s brand speaks to the classic housewife tradition of home-cooked meals with a playful twist to keep cooking and domestic labor from being a chore. Her viewers and consumers appreciate a peppy personality and a touch of cutesy wordplay. From innuendos to acronyms (EVOO = extra virgin olive oil), Rachael Ray looks to reach the consumer who does not take cooking too seriously. Her ideal consumer views the kitchen as a place to play and wants to use cooking to delight and entertain. The thought, effort, and time and money saved means much more to this consumer than perfection. These meanings reflect Lury’s notion of a brand’s use-value, “The ‘use-value’ of the brand to consumers consists in what they can make with it; what kind of person they can become with it, what kinds of social relationships they can form around it” (159). The Rachael Ray consumer appreciates traditional cooking techniques and kitchen products, but is engulfed in a work/home mix that forces her to adapt to a modern, eclectic balance. She does not have the time to read Vogue or bake in her Le Creuset products, but will find a 30-minute meal in Every Day with Rachael Ray and use her Rachael Ray Garbage Bowl to make dinner in a pinch with an easy clean up to enjoy the rest of her night. Rachael Ray’s brand aligns with Douglas Holt’s notion that, “consumers physically and symbolically transform branded goods as they coproduce collective, family, and individual meanings” (20). The Rachael Ray consumer manipulates the Rachael Ray products, picking and choosing recipes and tips from her cooking programs, to create a better self and a better home through the emotional and symbolic work done through the entire cooking process.

Rachael Ray’s EVOO & Vinegar Set


 

Personality & Identity

Rachael Ray’s brand relies heavily on her image to reach consumers. Alison Hearn, in Mask, Meat, Burden, explains how the branded self is intrinsically connected to how the self is presented. She quotes, “‘When you’re promoting brand YOU, everything you do – and everything you choose not to do – communicates the value and character of your brand” (Peters, 1997:83) (205). For Rachael, her physical appearance is never overly made-up, her hair is never over-worked, and her wardrobe is understated while still being flattering on her or any woman. She represents the every-woman who is not a size 0, enjoys food, and takes care of herself just as much as her family. The brand positions Rachael as the consumer’s neighbor, friend, or co-worker through the intimate framing on her cooking shows, and in the scripting of her talking points. Banet-Weiser, in Authenticity, describes the power of the individual as a commodified personality, “The individual is a flexible commodity that can be packaged, made, and remade – a commodity that gains value through self-empowerment” (17). Through folksy jargon and playful anecdotes, Rachael reveals enough of herself to not only empower herself but also to empower her viewers. She does so in such a candid way that the consumer views her as a peer in the modern adventure of cooking. The 30-minute programs interpellate the consumer by giving them a half hour time slot to not only watch Rachael Ray, but also to accomplish and finish cooking their family dinner. Her products enable the consumers to bring a lighthearted décor into their kitchen. Some products are derived from those specifically used on 30-Minute Meals and encourage the consumer to build their kitchen lifestyle around Rachael Ray. Rachael’s products reflect Mike Featherstone’s notion that, “Mundane and everyday consumer goods become associated with luxury, exotica, beauty and romance with their original or functional ‘use’ increasingly difficult to decipher” (58). Simple products that serve basic kitchen functions become stylized accessories to personalize the kitchen through playful innovation and creative combinations. From colorful standard pots and pans, to specialty items such as the Garbage Bowl and the EVOO dispensing bottle, Rachael Ray’s products are designed to make cooking approachable and allow the consumer to feel comfortable with her products and also enjoy using them, just as she enjoys watching Rachael’s programs.

Rachael Ray’s Garbage Bowl

Rachael Ray’s brand utilizes and expands her television presence to reach its consumers. The cooking program is necessary for her brand. It allows her to not only demonstrate her products in use, but it also allows her to make cooking and the kitchen an accessible place. The success of 30-Minute Meals enabled Rachael to gain her own talk show. Rachael Ray gives her brand an even greater intimacy with her consumers. The audience sits on the same level as Rachael, and she hosts celebrity guests at the dining table, allowing the consumer to feel connected to Rachael, related to Rachael, and ultimately immersed in her kitchen. By bringing Rachael Ray’s products into the retail market, the brand allows her consumers to essentially take Rachael Ray home with them. While sold on her own website, her products are also sold in Target stores and on QVC. These retail outlets enable an accessible, price-conscious consumer to achieve their ideal kitchen essentials through the Rachael Ray brand. Muniz and O’Guinn, in Brand Community, describe how a brand functions in a hyper- and intertextual media environment, “Brand community rituals and traditions exist in a hyper-textual media environment, where the commercial canon is pervasive, proximal, and perhaps primary” (424). Rachael’s commercial canon extends across diverse and immersive media platforms to keep her personality accessible and her lifestyle attainable for the consumer. John Hall, president and COO of the Rachael Ray brand explained in a Retail Merchandiser article, “‘Through the website and other social media assets, we are able to create much more awareness and engagement,’ Hall says. ‘As an example, with the launch into Target, we were able to leverage social media to support the launch of our brand there through our website and with the Rachael Ray Facebook and Twitter account to reach Rachael’s audience and fans and make them aware of what’s happening in her world.’” The digital space is ideal for the brand to reach their modern woman who cooks in the kitchen with a recipe up on her iPad, who then tweets a picture of her meal. Her web presence also increases the brand’s intimacy and accessibility for the consumer, and ultimately positions Rachael closer to a true friend of the consumer who looks to her for not only cooking support but also just relatable girl-talk.

Rachael Ray “Behind the Scenes at QVC”

Rachael Ray at Target Digital Ad Campaign

Ultimately, Rachael Ray’s brand’s main tactic is to get the consumer interested and related to Rachael. If they can connect to her personality, through the jokes, playfulness, and frank talk on one of her programs, the consumer will be able to connect to other aspects of her brand through the digital environment that encourages the consumer to visit her talk show page, then click through to her product shop, then subscribe to her magazine, and then download a recipe for dinner.


 

In The Consumer’s Kitchen

Rachael Ray is able to enter a consumer’s home at practically any time of the day through their television screens, and as a promoter of cookware, she is able to enter, more directly, a consumer’s kitchen. The consumers that are forming attachments to her brand are those that are looking for guidance, advice, and companionship when it comes to the domestic space. There are those that passively watch her programs or buy her products as gifts, but the consumers that form attachments to her brand are those that align with her lifestyle and implement her methodologies into their daily routines in and out of the kitchen. The consumers that are forming attachments are those that post questions on social media, looking for new recipes or advice in cooking adventures. They are also those that tag themselves in the Facebook picture of her talk show’s studio audience. When forming attachments, the consumers take Rachael Ray’s television programs, buy her products, and transform their kitchens into spaces that reflect her messages, her cuisines, and her attitudes. The consumers that are forming significant attachments are not chefs or experienced cooks, but rather they are contemporary consumers trying to navigate their kitchen through Rachael’s advice. Lury describes successful brands as those that are able to intervene and organize the consumers’ lives through products first, followed by social communications. Lury explains, “Consumers and their lives are entangled in a flow of commodities, services, promotion and events” (151). Those that are forming attachments are sharing their kitchen experiences and using the Rachael Ray brand and brand community to explore, learn, and play with the domesticity of cooking.

When researching the brand community for Rachael Ray, the words “delicious” and more appropriately “delish” came up in hashtags as well as in a review of her cookware on the Examiner. The brand community for Rachael Ray is greatly attaching a sense of curiosity to her recipes, products, and the kitchen in general. This curiosity appears in questioning new recipes and the authenticity of cook-times, tastes, and efficiency. But more interestingly, the curiosity comes when consumers are anxious to try out new products or test new recipes. The brand community is always looking to “try” new things. This idea of “trying” and new adventures in cooking certainly aligns with Rachael Ray’s brand projection of a no-fear kitchen. The brand encourages contemporary cooking innovations, but does not want consumers to get too ravenous and too crazy. Facebook user, Nancy Gallant Bond, posted her own version of Rachael’s “Fish in Parchment”. While the flavors and idea came from Rachael’s inspiration, Nancy manipulates the dish to make it “vegan-ized and deconstructed”. Making the kitchen an unthreatening space, Rachael Ray’s brand encourages consumers to transform dishes and adapt the Rachael Ray lifestyle to their own dietary, familial, and social specificities. The brand relies on consumers’ curiosities to keep the dialogue open and truly make Rachael a relatable personality to transfer the brand’s ideology to the consumer. On her Pinterest pages, Rachael Ray consumers seem to be mostly aligning with the brand’s ideal of conquering the kitchen and commanding their life through cooking. Pinterest user Renee Leone comments, “This is so amazingly good! I made it the other day after seeing it on the show and it’s a keeper for my fam!” Her statement represents how the consumers are watching her programs and bringing the Rachael Ray brand into their home and using the brand to build a better domestic space for the modern consumer. Further, Rachael’s consumers see Rachael as a friend who not only gives advice to them, but who sets them up with the basic knowledge to advance their own thinking and creating. Adam Arvidsson, in Brands, explains how the brand serves as the base to enable consumers to build social relationships within and outside the brand, “what consumers produce by means of the brand will contribute to strengthening the position that the brand occupies in their life-world” (248). Rachael Ray’s brand puts forth ideas and inspirations for her consumers, but her brand community uses her cultural and culinary knowledge to transform them to their own lifestyles. Pinterest user Tiffany Franco comments on a pasta recipe, “I’d probably try this with chicken or shrimp instead of tuna”. Tiffany sees Rachael as an empowered source of information and knowledge for recipes, but is also empowered through the brand to remix recipes and add her own personal touches to the cooking process.

Screenshot taken by author from the Rachael Ray Facebook page.

Screenshots taken & combined by author – from Rachael Ray Pinterest page.

Consumers engage with the brand through evaluating, rating, and critiquing the content from Rachael Ray’s shows as well as her magazine and product lines. When Rachael Ray appears on QVC, shoppers are encouraged to call in and give their personal statements about the products on sale as well as their opinions of Rachael in general. Second screen activity allows Rachael’s personal shopping adventures to transfer online. Twitter user Adam Rucker tweets, “Don’t have Friday night plans? Rachael Ray is selling pepper on QVC.” Even with a touch of sarcasm, the tweet demonstrates Rachael’s deep presence in users lives and their passionate and playful reactions to her personality. The brand community around Rachael Ray is able to speak directly to Rachael and even witness her in person at her talk show. Free tickets are available for her talk show, and consumers of her brand are able to engage with all things Rachael Ray from a front stage and back stage point of view. Her talk show is taped, so during her practice takes, the audience is able to engage with Rachael while also engaging with one another.  The audiences in attendance are able to then tag themselves in the pictures from their taping as well as comment and share the photo on their own pages. From the waiting room to the show premiering on-air, the brand community, those in attendance and those watching at home, are all watching and taking their Rachael Ray engagement to their second screens. On Pinterest, users Nancy Hedberg and Rosie Gutarra-Shambry comment on a recipe saying, “sounds delish” and “I feel like in heaven,” respectively. The Rachael Ray consumers here transform Rachael’s vernacular and incorporate them into their own discourse and create a dialogue on the social platform to share their reactions to the recipes. Consumers who engage with the brand and her products follow her television shows’ blueprints, actively communicate their opinions and reactions to their interpretations of her recipes and product lines, and ultimately share and learn from the brand and one another how to better their domestic space.

Screenshot taken by author from Twitter.


Off-Brand & Haters
At the start of her career, Rachael appeared in a Burger King commercial and also posed for FHM, a men’s magazine, in 2003. The brand communities and philosophies for Burger King and FHM do not align with her every-day, modern woman image. While she supports a speedy and effective cooking style in 30 Minute Meals, the fast and processed lifestyle of the Burger King consumer does not fit with Rachael’s culinary aesthetic of home-cooked meals with creativity and adeptness. In terms of her FHM spread, Rachael’s sex appeal and display of her womanhood is a point of contention even to this day. Facebook user Alicia Henson commented on a recent commercial featuring Rachael, “What shocked me is Rachel [sic] and the amount of….lets [sic] say cleavage she’s showing!!! WOW! Now I believe she is a beautiful woman and now that I’ve seen her boobs they are beautiful also…however I just find it distasteful for Rachel [sic]. Quite frankly I am shocked…” Rachael’s physical image is so tied to the brand that consumers turn to judging her based on standard conventions of female beauty and they criticize her expressions of femininity. Banet-Weiser explains this problem, “Once again, as women are encouraged to ‘put themselves out there,’ we confront the notion of visibility. While feminism fades from vision, the individual entrepreneur takes it place” (61). Rachael’s adventures as a self-branded feminine entrepreneur advances her visibility, and so as feminism fades, the ever-prominent, never fading sexism of our society comes through in both Rachael’s depiction in the magazine and the continuing comments on Rachael’s physical, sexual appearance.

Rachael Ray for FHM

It is understandable for a woman with more than five television shows on air to find herself some haters. Unfortunately for Rachael Ray, there is an unbelievable amount of digital content that is devoted just to detracting her credibility and vocalizing their disdain for her. An entire blog, formerly titled “Rachael Ray Sucks,” pledges, “On my honor, I promise to…snark on anything and everything mediocre, but most especially Rachael Ray, other poseurs of the culinary world, or any asshat [sic] who deserves it.” The blog mocks her “what’s for dinner tonight” segment and uses the livejournal platform to recap the shows while pointing out Ray’s ridiculous behavior and the incessant annoyances they find in her recipes, her juvenile use of language, and her overall amateur approach. In pointing out the shortcomings, flaws and disagreeable traits of Ray, the community against her rivals that in support of her. These resisters cringe every time she says “Yum-O” and have even coined the term “Raytard.” This community viscerally despises Ray and has no qualms making it apparent on the web. In response to a Gawker post titled “Russell Brand Makes Rachael Ray’s Awful Talk Show Actually Entertaining,” commenter RedEngine88 replied declaring “She is insufferable.” Commenter CaptainMFingPlanet declared, “her voice annoys me so much more than fran drescher.” The deliberate posting of consumers’ extreme dislike and ultimate intolerable reaction to Ray allows a major community to form in opposition, objection and outright hatred to the Rachael Ray image and brand.


For consumers who interact and engage with the Rachael Ray brand, their reactions, of support or disapproval, are based intrinsically on Rachael Ray as an individual. The brand has positioned Rachael not just as a spokesperson but also as the true embodiment of the brand. From a no-fear approach to the kitchen, to playfully approaching domestic work, to balancing a modern life of work, family, and cooking, Rachael Ray rejects the Martha Stewart attitude towards a pristine perfection approach to one’s life. Rachael Ray’s personality and brand project her ideal lifestyle of an eager, feminine, empowered everyday woman who embraces her quirks onto her following consumers, even if her personality alienates and inspires hate. Rachael’s presence across television, into department stores, onto to consumers’ tables, and now on a variety of digital platforms allows consumers to share their love, inspiration, and yummy interactions with Rachael while they also enable those with intense disdain to viciously reject her brand as well.


Works Cited:

Arvidsson, Adam. Brands: Meaning and Value in Media Culture. London: Routledge, 2006.

Banet-Weiser, Sarah. Authentic TM: Politics and Ambivalence in a Brand Culture. New York: New York UP, 2012.

Featherstone, Mike. “Lifestyle and consumer culture,” Consumer Culture and Postmodernism, London: Sage. 1991

Hearn, Alison. “Meat, mask, burden: probing the contours of the branded self,” Journal of Consumer Culture, 8 (2), pp. 197-217. 2008.

Holt, Douglas. “Does Cultural Capital Structure American Consumption?” Journal of Consumer Research, 25 (June), 1–25. 1998.

Lury, Celia. Consumer Culture. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 1996.

Muñiz, Albert and Thomas C. O’Guinn, “Brand Communities,” Journal of Consumer Research, 27 (March), pp. 412–32. 2000.

Web Links:

http://www.rachaelray.com/
http://www.rachaelray.com/shop/index.php
http://www.retail-merchandiser.com/index.php/reports/retail-supplier/704-rachael-ray
http://cultureby.com/2006/10/rachael_ray_bra.html
https://www.facebook.com/TheRachaelRayShow
http://www.examiner.com/review/rachael-ray-s-qvc-cookware-and-sharing-a-recipe-cooking-session-from-her-book
https://www.pinterest.com/rachaelraymag/rachael-ray-30-minute-meals/
http://www.slate.com/articles/life/food/2005/07/rachael_ray.single.html
http://boardoutmind.livejournal.com/
http://gawker.com/5693611/russell-brand-makes-rachael-rays-awful-talk-show-actually-entertaining
http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/26/magazine/26wwln_consumed.html?_r=0

Advertisements