A view from Dave Trott: We can't own knowledge
A view from Dave Trott

We can't own knowledge

A few years back, Nigella Lawson suggested using cream in spaghetti carbonara.

Immediately “foodies” were outraged.

Didn’t she know that you must never, EVER use cream in carbonara, the egg yolks are what gives it its creamy taste?

She’s supposed to be a chef, what is she thinking of?

Everyone immediately jumped all over her for desecrating an age-old Italian recipe.

One headline read: “An outrage to Italian cuisine: Nigella Lawson angers Italians with her controversial carbonara recipe.”

Social media was more pointed: “Nigella you are a wonderful woman but your recipes are the DEATH of Italian recipes, literally! NO CREAM IN CARBONARA NEVER, only eggs.”

And again: “Nigella, there are many cuisines in the world that need tarting up with cream, the best cuisine in the world, namely Italian does not need you to ruin it.”

And again: “Cubed pancetta? White wine? Double cream? Parmesan cheese? This is not carbonara, this is a real MERDA! Te pudeat.”

All the self-proclaimed experts weighed in to protect the authentic, age-old Italian recipe.

There is just one problem.

Spaghetti carbonara isn’t an authentic, age-old Italian recipe.

It was invented in 1944 for the American troops that were liberating Rome.

The soldiers were getting bored with the same old K rations every day.

They wanted something new and interesting, but minestrone soup just wasn’t enough.

The soldiers had lots of eggs and bacon, the Italians had lots of pasta.

Between them, they found a way to put these together, and carbonara was born.

Everyone, Americans and Italians, loved it, but even at the beginning there were differences of opinion on the recipe.

Some preferred rigatoni, some preferred spaghetti.

Some preferred pancetta (pork belly), some preferred guanciale (pork jowl).

Some preferred pecorino, some preferred parmesan.

Some preferred it with onions, some without.

So everyone originally had their own style, but a few years later “foodies” are acting as if there has only ever been one authentic style throughout all of history.

Not only are they wrong, they’re missing the point.

The point is to make delicious food, not to recreate a piece of history.

But these are people who believe their subjective opinion is the only objective reality.

We have many people like this in our business.

I recently wrote on Twitter that I liked the thinking behind the Fever Tree campaign:


I thought it was an interesting approach: “You’re paying a lot for the best gin, why spoil the G&T by saving money on the cheapest part?”

It reminded me of Theodore Levitt’s quote: “Last year, a million quarter-inch drills were sold. Not because people wanted quarter-inch drills but because people wanted quarter-inch holes.”

I thought it was an interesting way for Fever Tree to take market share for its brand.

But I immediately got several comments like this:

“75% is far too much tonic, what a waste.”

“You should never mix G&T more than 60/40.”

“I never mix tonic more than 50/50 with gin, it ruins the gin.”

All comments about gin drinking, not marketing: subjective, not objective.

Years ago at BMP, we used to refer to remarks like that as going “Straight to the heart of the trivia”.

Which seems to me to be where much of advertising is headed.

Dave Trott is the author of The Power of Ignorance, Creative Blindness and How to Cure It, Creative Mischief, Predatory Thinking and One Plus One Equals Three