Foodie Web Sites Turn Stylish

I fancy myself a bit of a foodie. I cook things like pistachio-encrusted sea bass with coconut sauce on a regular basis. I’ve taken some courses at the Culinary Institute of America. So when I read in the February issue of “Gourmet” that the magazine has just relaunched, I felt a little tingle of excitement.

Epicureans have, until quite recently, been woefully underrepresented online. There are recipe sites galore, but beyond that content has largely been limited to the food and dining sections of national and local newspapers properties.

Most culinary magazine sites were a bare bones version of their offline versions that left the visitor feeling distinctly undervalued. Worse still, they were clearly there primarily for the purpose of pushing subscriptions. After all, why give content to consumers for free when you can rope them into a hard copy contract?

The past few years have, mercifully, seen this lifestyle genre evolve considerably on the Web. Publications like “Bon Appétit” and “Food & Wine” now offer blogs and podcasts in addition to scores of original content, including restaurant guides, and guest columns by celebrity chefs.

In this sense, the new is no different. Its contents is informational and irreverent, seamlessly blending new features like user forums and videos with highly entertaining archived articles from the magazine (cooks in the ’40s and ’50s were, apparently, really into eating rodents. But it delivers something the millions of consumers who already frequent related recipe site have been hungering for: the food world background story to the ingredients, dishes, and food trends they deliver to the table every night.

From a media buying perspective, I can’t offer quite as much enthusiasm about — yet. There’s a bounty of potential placement opportunities on the site.

I envision experiential sponsored articles, advertorial-style, linking to current pieces (“Earth’s Best” baby food, which is already linked to in a story called “Bringing Up Baby” must be thinking the same thing). I’d like to see branded recipes from products with real cooking potential, like Mutti Parma concentrated tomato paste and Nutella (perhaps not in the same dish).

It’s surely only a matter of time before Rocco DiSpirito shows up in a site video, all charm and smiles as he touts the benefits of Bertolli pasta, for which he’s a spokesperson.

For now, advertisers are getting the standard IAB-approved formats, tucked neatly to the right of the page content. These are the same formats you’ll find across all CondéNet sites, which, admittedly, makes campaign planning and buying much easier.

There’s talk of video being offered, and advertisers will certainly benefit from the added content, which should increase the duration of page views compared with the more purpose-driven recipe-specific properties. But the importance of the advertising clearly isn’t being addressed yet, as evidenced by the site link to the “Gourmet” media kit. It defaulted to the magazine version, with no online information to be found.

Online, this industry has always taken baby steps. There’s hope yet for to become the leader in online advertising that it’s shaping up to be in culinary content. If my foodie instincts are right, this new site will be a hit with savvy, educated consumers who boast the discriminating tastes and discretionary income marketers of food products and culinary gadgets seek.

At the very least, we’ll all come away with a recipe for Creamed Woodchuck.

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