Gourmet Festivals, Supper Clubbing and the 'Sturgis' Effect

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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. ( -- Seeking new ways to eke out growth in tough times, epicurean magazines are expected to invite a record number of readers to food
Culinary pubs want to engage more readers in food-related events.
festivals and intimate gatherings with chefs in 2003 while also sweetening deals for advertisers.

Conde Nast Publications' Bon Appetit is introducing its first-ever Culinary Classic & Celebrity Chef Ski Race in Colorado in February and will lure thousands of consumers to culinary fairs in seven cities with ticket prices as high as $500 for some events. Conde Nast's Gourmet and American Express Publishing's Food & Wine are also targeting readers with high-end galas throughout the year.

Tribal marketing
Time Inc.'s Cooking Light is going a step further, tapping into one of marketing's new tools by harnessing "tribal marketing" for its network of nationwide cooking clubs. Defined as the art of targeting like-minded consumers who spontaneously connect around a product or service, tribal marketing explains how several dozen cooking clubs have sprung up around the U.S. The title has nudged the concept along through its Web site ( and by featuring clubs in its pages beginning in 2000.

This year Cooking Light launched a series of Cooking Light Supper Club dinners in Manhattan to entertain readers and demonstrate advertisers' wares. About 200 people

Photo: AP
Publishers are exploring 'tribal marketing' events similar to the Sturgis rally that draws 500,000 bikers to a tiny South Dakota town each August.
attended four such events, each backed by more than a dozen sponsors.

Now the magazine is expanding the concept to San Francisco and Chicago, bringing the total number of dinners planned for 2003 to eight, including those in New York. Readers and previous attendees will be invited, with tickets priced at about $50 each for a $100 or more value.

Started with readers
"The supper club idea began with readers, and now we're celebrating the phenomenon and giving advertisers a chance to be part of it," said Chris Allen, the magazine's vice president and associate publisher.

Cooking Light provides a way "to deliver our message in an environment that is relevant and meaningful to a very specific audience," said Caryl Hahn, vice president of global media and new channels for MasterCard International, a backer of the Supper Clubs events.

Companies seeking tribal marketing dynamics must listen closely to consumers before beating the drums, experts suggest.

The 'Sturgis effect'
Tribal marketing -- best illuminated by the annual gathering of Harley-Davidson motorcyclists in Sturgis, S.D. -- demands "a deep understanding of your audience," and not being too heavy-handed with the commercial message, said Sam Hill, president of Chicago-based Helios Consulting.

Mr. Hill discussed tribal marketing at the Advertising Research Foundation's Business Intelligence Forum earlier this month in Manhattan, and predicts it will play a big role in successful marketing throughout this decade.

"The key is enhancing the way consumers connect with one another around your product," he said.

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