– 28 November 2012


Gordon Ramsay is back on South African television screens, but this time the British celebrity chef is not telling failed restaurateurs to “fuck off”, he’s checking Checkers’ racks.

Ramsay’s meaty new campaign

“Checkers reckons their butchery’s top notch,” says the legend who holds an incredible 12 Michelin Stars. In the advert he’s carrying in a whole lamb on his shoulder into what looks like a pristine gourmet kitchen. You don’t immediately see that the chef carrying in the carcass is Ramsay, so there’s a big surprise when that meat hits the wooden cutting board, and that unmistakable, self-assured tone growls at you.

“Well, let’s see what they’ve got,” Ramsay asserts over music that sounds just like ‘Misirlou’ a folk song popularised first by Dick Dale and the Del-Tones, and then by Quentin Tarantino when it was used in “Pulp Fiction”. Viewers of the chef’s compulsive US reality show, Kitchen Nightmares, should find it familiar because ‘Misirlou’, a wild, rebellious soundtrack was used with that show. The makers of Ramsay’s television programmes have always made astute choices for their soundtracks, and the Checkers butchery commercial is no different.

“This is no ordinary lamb,” says Ramsay, picking up the Checkers’ rack. “It is certified, natural lamb. Alright, let’s go,” he adds as he spices the rack, and starts sizzling the meat in a black, heavy bottomed skillet. What’s really cool about the ad is that it is not overly scripted, and the experience of watching it is very much like viewing Ramsay during one of his shows. Except he’s not swearing at anyone, or telling them how crap they are. And the way he rolls his ‘rrrrrr’ with that guttural overtone when he says ‘boerewors’, is just priceless.

The ad works, not only because of the slick execution, but because it positions Ramsay as ‘the world’s toughest food critic’, which of course he is. Checkers have put massive work into trying to upgrade their butcheries over the years, investing in that annual boerewors competition and working with farmers, so doing a deal withTHE chef makes sense.

Celebrity endorsements are risky in some aspects, but in Ramsay’s case he’s had so much bad publicity it hardly matters. Publicity is a kind of fuel that just seems to build his notoriety. But Ramsay’s 12 Michelin stars shows there’s one aspect of his life that he’s always serious about and that’s food.

It must have cost Checkers a fortune to do this deal with Ramsay, which includes smart use of social media and a PR campaign to drive the endorsement. Checkers, of course, are not saying how much – so the question that begs asking is: “Will it be worth it”.

Yes, that’s nigh to impossible to answer without knowing how much the sponsorship deal was, but what needs to be understood is this. The margins might be slim in retail, but the stakes in the supermarket industry are massive. There’s fat in that industry in the luxury and gourmet sectors, which Woolworths and Pick ‘n Pay have moved into with their ranges and stores.

Checkers has traditionally been positioned outside of that gourmet category, because it used to be positioned on price in the old days – can anyone remember ‘twolley for twolley’? But the Shoprite group has been working hard to change these perceptions by focussing on lines like cheese, wine, and of course meat. The butchery section is where a lot of hard work has been done by that retail brand over the years to reposition the store, and despite those Nataniel adverts, it is working.

The supermarket has brilliant wine, meat and cheese ranges and has worked hard to make it a more natural choice for gourmet appreciative consumers. The Ramsay advert speaks directly to this market in a bold, compelling way. It grabs you by the throat and makes you sit up and take notice.

I haven’t eaten some lamb or steak from Checkers in a while, but believe me the ad works. That’s where I’ll be this weekend to see if Ramsay’s on the money or if he’s just made another commercial. My bet is that he’s on the money, and the steak I’ll buy will be well aged, with good fat marbling. That it will live up to the sizzling sell.