Social Media getting too hot for MasterChef SA sponsor Robertsons?


I have watched with amusement how new Robertson’s Social Media Manager Sonia Cabano has been going about her new job in the past ten days, one she has never done before, given that brand diplomacy would be expected of her at all times. Twice last week she demonstrated that she is too political to do this job without damaging the Robertson’s brand reputation.

The word ‘Masterclass’ caught my eye in the Robertson’s TV commercial during the MasterChef SA broadcast last week, and since then I have been trying to understand what it means in its use as a pay-off line for this MasterChef SA sponsor.  I requested an explanation via e-mail of the claim on Twitter, and in reply was referred to the very slow to open website developed by digital agency Liquorice, and was told that Robertson’s does not send e-mails to its customers. On Friday late afternoon I called the Unilever Consumer Centre helpline number (0860331441) on the Robertson’s website, and had to listen to an abrupt unfriendly male voice giving the operating hours of the helpline, being Monday – Friday from 8h00 – 16h00! That was amusing in itself, in that most cooking is done at night, and if Robertson’s is spending millions on its MasterChef SA sponsorship and advertising, why would it not have a helpline with customer-friendly hours! I wanted to share this on Twitter, and noticed with surprise that we had been blocked on Twitter by Robertson’s, which means that we no longer receive their Tweets.  In Social Media terms this is extreme censure. One could sense how Sonia Cabano had to contain her sharpness she is known for on her personal Twitter account (@SoniaCabano2), one on which she regularly blocks followers for ‘trolling’ her, she writes, yet she runs anonymous Twitter accounts with Skye Grove, disparaging other Tweeters, including ourselves.  Sonia Cabano is unknown as a ‘chef’, having never cooked in a South African restaurant kitchen, but has written three cookbooks, and presented a TV cooking programme ‘Pampoen tot Perlemoen’ many years ago.  In an interview in Rapport’s ‘My Tyd’ ten days ago, she trod on bloggers’ toes by disparaging them: ‘…enigiemand wat al ooit ‘n houtlepel vasgehou het, deesdae ‘n blogger of koskenner is’. One would have thought that, as the new Social Media Manager for Robertson’s, she would recognise bloggers as one of her key target markets, in creating exposure for and encouraging the use of her client’s brand and products!

On the Robertson’s Twitter account Sonia Cabano’s output has been admirable, with just over 300 Tweets and 280 followers in just ten days, but the frequency of Tweeting has slowed down, and they do not appear to Tweet on Sundays! The Twitter volume was extremely low yesterday. Interesting was her ‘interview’ with top 50 ‘bootcamp’ finalist Jade de Waal via Twitter last week, the only contestant that she has interviewed on behalf of Robertson’s to date, showing favouritism towards her (commendably declared) friend and relative (De Waal was her maiden name). She may also be ‘communicating’ that this contestant has won MasterChef SA, something the rest of us will only know in 17 weeks!

Given that I was not getting any joy from the Robertson’s Twitter account, I looked for ‘Masterclass’ on the Robertson’s website, one which is not the easiest to navigate, as it does not show the pages on the site.  It was when I clicked on to ‘Competitons’ (sic), that I found a sub-page entitled ‘Masterclass’, being a video of Chef and Robertson’s endorser Reuben Riffel making a ‘Cheesy garlic bread with home-made herbed butter’! I had double-checked the term ‘Masterclass’ earlier in the week, when I had written about the Robertson’s ‘Masterclass’ pay-off line, and had found it to be a term used in the field of music in the main, denoting a revered person giving a class.  A chef told me that it could relate to cooking too, and used Chef Liam Tomlin giving a cooking class at Liam Tomlin Foods as an example.  The term has two parts – it implies that the person giving the class is recognised as an ‘expert’ in his field.  One can question whether Chef Reuben still has this status, not having made the Top 20 shortlist for the latest Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant Awards, and (ironically) for having damaged his reputation by lending his name to Robertson’s in radio and

TV ads, which have been running for months. Serious food lovers say Chef Reuben has sold out to Robertson’s, and are horrified that he could be using Robertson’s products in his Reuben’s restaurant kitchens!  Secondly, the term implies that one would be taught serious dishes, and a simple garlic bread probably has been made by every houseperson, not requiring any explanation or education. No other recipes are on this page yet, disappointing if there is an expectation to learn something new to cook every day, especially over the 18 week duration of MasterChef SA.  Odd is the description ‘Chef’s Camp Classes’ on the same page, an alliteration that can be badly misinterpreted! It may have been intended to refer to the ‘bootcamp’ for the 50 MasterChef SA finalists. There is no information yet to show that Chef Reuben was involved with MasterChef SA.  On registering on the Robertson’s website, one receives an e-mail, welcoming one to the ‘Robertson’s Masterclass’, and inviting one to ‘Put on your apron, fire up your frying pan and get ready for a delicious journey into the world of Robertsons herbs and spices. As a student of Robertsons Masterclass, you have the chance to craft your everyday culinary skills in your own home. Fill your kitchen with the exotic aromas of nature’s finest flavours as we show you how to use these wonderful ingredients to add vibrancy and fragrance to all your favourite dishes’. Misleading is the claim that one will learn the ‘tricks of the trade from one of South Africa’s best chefs’!

Yesterday I spoke to co-Managing Partner Jay Thomson of Liquorish, the Social Media Marketing agency handling the Robertson’s digital account, to check the company’s policy about blocking Twitter accounts. While not working on this account, he spontaneously said that blocking anyone on a client’s Twitter account is not their agency policy.  He took action immediately, and reinforced agency procedures and approval processes, which had not been followed, he shared with me.  He apologised personally, and so did the brand on Twitter, honestly admitting its mistake, and Robertson’s reversed the blocking: “Apologies&welcome back guys! Unfortunately processes weren’t followed on our side. Really do value fdback of SAs top foodies!”. Robertson’s Liquorish Account Director Chris Jones also called with an apology. The company did not Tweet anything further for the rest of the day.

Robertson’s will become an interesting FMCG case-study in how not to apply Social Media Marketing in a consumer brand marketing mix. Personal politics do not belong in a business application for a brand, and will do Robertson’s serious harm if its Social Media Manager is allowed to express her personal dislikes and vendettas.  I have been assured by Liquorish that this will not happen again, yet cannot be sure if this promise will be honoured, given the Twitter tirade on Ms Cabano’s personal account last night, as well as on her anonymous Twitter account, which was been downright disparaging of her client Robertson’s.

POSTSCRIPT 7/4: Reuben Riffel, Robertsons’ advertising endorser, has presented three more ‘Masterclass’ videos on the Robertsons’ website. A very simple ‘Chocolate Banana’ (but the video is called ‘Braaied Bananas’) ‘Masterclass’ was lightweight, and did not tell one how to make the chocolate sauce, only giving instructions of how to cut the banana and caramelise the sugar sprinkled over it.  Another ‘Masterclass’ is for making ‘Cinnamon Crepes’, thinner French-style pancakes Chef Reuben said.  A third ‘Masterclass’ video is for ‘Cracked Rosemary and Paprika Potatoes’, the video called ‘Twist’.  Interesting is the viewership of the ‘Masterclass’ videos, at 449 views for the ‘Crepes’ video, 195 views for the banana video, 33 views for the potato video, and 559 views for the garlic bread one, which was the first ‘Masterclass’ by Chef Reuben. The viewership statistics must be frustratingly low to Robertsons, given what it must be spending on advertising and its sponsorship of MasterChef SA.  The typing error on the Robertsons’ website, identified in this blogpost, has been corrected, but the double-meaning alliterated ‘Chef’s Camp Classes’ has been retained!

POSTSCRIPT 20/4: The link to Another Damned Food Blog, which in October last year wrote a parody about Chef Reuben Riffel’s endorsement of Robertsons, is circulating again.  Now that MasterChef SA has started, it is even funnier to read now!

Robertson’s, Twitter: @RobertsonsSpice (Monday – Saturday only).  Episode 2 of MasterChef SA will be broadcast on M-Net at 19h30 this evening.

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: Twitter:@WhaleCottage

Please follow and like us:
Tweet 27k

WhaleTales Blog


We don’t spam!

Read our privacy policy for more info.

19 replies on “Social Media getting too hot for MasterChef SA sponsor Robertsons?”

  1. I have been fascinated to follow on FB the Masterchef SA debacle. Being outside the country I cannot see a full episode and just see snippets on FB whilst being bombarded with trailers about the show. In fact more than one person has likened the amount released on FB to spamming.

    It appears that reaction to the show has been distinctly mixed from what I can gather from various foodie people in SA. Some rave about it, some say its a disgrace and have told me they have turned off the program as they cringe with embarrassment at the way it has been handled. I cannot judge having not seen the program but its trailers certainly fall into the category of cringe worthy. As an avid follower of the original British show I was very much hoping that SA would prove a fine example to showcase some of its top potential talent and that the judges would come over with professionalism and expertise. Is this so?

    The sponsorship scenario is always crucial to the success of any show, since without them, series such as Masterchef SA would never get off the ground. It does seem surprising that Robertsons have found themselves embroiled in this latest scenario on Twitter etc. Glad to know that relevant parties have however given apologies where it was due.

    Here in Munich from where I write Twitter is not considered a major source of info – indeed I myself do not have time to follow twitter given the already full world of technology. I don’t think I have once seen Twitter and Masterchef UK mentioned in the same sentence. Doubtless there are loyal followers but it certainly isn’t the big thing here that it seems to have become in SA. Social Media is good to a point but as this scenario has shown it can sometimes backfire badly through people reacting in the heat of the moment.

    Whatever the future of Masterchef SA it will be interesting to learn what the official viewership figures turn out to be and one can just hope that those that deserve to win do not have their ‘cover blown’ before the grand finale. If so it would be a poor example to the confidentiality of what should be a build up to the finale.

    May the best chef win!

  2. Hi there,

    Just an amendment – I was also interviewed by Robertson’s on Twitter, as I am a Top 50 contestant as well – we did it on Human Right’s Day, 21 March.

  3. This is a very unfair article. You really do have far too much time on your hands and have chosen to use it to make mountains out of mole hills, instead of using it constructively. In order to find out the meaning of Masterclass you tweeted, emailed AND phoned ? Really ? You really are exaggerating your experience; finding something negative at every turn. The Robertson’s call centre voice was abrupt and unfriendly – was that really necessary to mention ?

    I agree that the blocking was a bit extreme – but this was rectified and apologised for. You even received a phone call from the account director (!) and a compliment directly from Sonia by being referred to as a “top foodie”.

    Sonia’s personal Twitter account is just that – her personal Twitter account. What she wants to say on there she can say. She is not the face of Robertson’s (as one might say Reuben is); she has no need to censor herself. From the Robertson’s handle’s point of view, she has been nothing but courteous to you.

    I personally adore Sonia’s cookbooks (which is why I am replying to the scum of an article). Putting the word chef in inverted commas is childish. Having cooked in a South African restaurant kitchen does not make one a chef. I googled the word chef as you so love to do – it is a person who “cooks for a living” ( Sonia’s life is food. Sonia is a chef.

    I really do not agree with your statement that she is damaging the Robertson’s brand. This is a very harsh statement and one you should not make so lightly. Nor so strongly. One experience had by yourself, with no one else having “problems” does not grant you the reasoning to want her off the brand. That is a very personal view and you should not have brought Robertson’s into it. How is Sonia expressing her personal dislikes and vendettas through the Robertson’s brand ? I searched through the entire feed and could not find one out of place tweet. You cannot make such bold statements without backing them up.

    This all just seems really bitchy.

  4. It requires a certain level of exposure to the Masterchef series in the UK, Australia, and the flofp from the USA, to put our local series in context. While the British series has always aimed at the more serious cook, with a fair amount of stiff upper-lip, the Australian series has shown more entertainment value in its approach of aiming for amateurs and non-professionals. it is way too early to judge our local series, although from what I’ve seen so far there’s a lot of enjoyment to be had yet from judges and contestants- both for the serious foodie and for people who view food as fuel only.

    I was surprised at you copmplete lack of insight regarding the Masterclass concept, Chris, especially since you consider yourself an expert-foodie. It has been used with great success in the Aussie serie, with current and past prominent chefs offering enjoyable demonstrations, and if you had done any proper background checking you would not have had to ask about the Robertson’s spin-off on the idea. Ruben Riffel is more than qualified for the job, your persistent and subtle little semi-racist jibes in his direction is not an accurate reflection of his skills as either a chef or a businessman. As a matter of fact it reveals much more about your character than his.

  5. I for one am pleased that MasterChef has come to SA. We have always enjoyed the UK Masterchef, as well as the Australian one. The Aussie one was totally different to the UK – A long drawn out series that with a hellavu lot of drama in between the actual competing of the contestants. I am hoping that SA’s Masterchef will not be so drawn out. From watching those – the concept of Masterclass was introduced to us the viewing public ( to whom I would imagine it is largely geared towards as opposed to the foodie peeps of this nation) during the Aussie Series. In essence it is just a day when the Judges actually give the contestants a Master Class, showing them how to achieve certain dishes, with all the useful tips and strategies that these chefs have learnt and applied. In the context of the Masterchef series, that is my understanding of Master Class.

    I refused to watch Masterchef USA- with fowl mouthed, bad tempered and arrogant UK Chef Gordon Ramsay going about the business of belittling people, thinking it will take them towards success. Such an archaic mentally and undeserving of modern day viewing.

    Having said my piece here, I think that we should give the SA Masterchef a chance to get off the ground and set out prejudices aside.

    its all about entertainment of the masses at the end of the day.

  6. Shame Chris you’re at your old tricks again and you never listen. How dare someone of your calibre critisize Masterchef SA, Robertson’s, Sonia Cabano and most of all, SA’s Celebrity chef Reuben Riffel. Shame you must be a very unhappy person. Spending hours and hours of researching, phoning, investigating, planning and plotting personal vendettas against people who have far better (cooking) skills than you. You are taking this issue far too serious. Do you get a kick out of this? Must be otherwise you would not go that far. Shame poor you. And you still believe that you’re doing consumers a favour? Frankly I think you’re making a fool of yourself. Stop this nagging and moaning for once. You’ll sleep and eat much better if you do.

  7. Mike

    Your comment will be posted when you resend it without your venom and disparagement, an old habit of yours!


  8. Thank you for your input from Munich Frances. Twitter has a huge influence in SA, and Cape Town surprisingly is the Twitter Capital!

    Another exciting episode tonight, with half of the 50 finalists eliminated.


  9. I do not understand why anyone or any program should not be subject to criticism Surita, if justified? On which grounds? I have motivated what I have written. Do you endorse Sonia’s vendettas on the Robertson’s account?

    I have no vendetta against any of the parties you listed, and I have never claimed to be fond of cooking – I far rather have the experts do that!

    I am certainly not ‘nagging’ not ‘moaning’ (MasterChef SA has only just begun, after all) and I sleep and eat very well. Thank you for your care and concern!

    I have deleted your second comment, filled with inaccuracies and criticism (is it just OK for you to criticise?). You are welcome to edit it and resend it.


  10. Dear Kobus

    If you had read my MasterChef SA blogpost last week, you will have seen my declared ‘virginity’ as far as cooking programs in general, and MasterChef specifically goes:

    “Masterclass” therefore means nothing to me, and the little I have seen on the Robertson’s website does not match my understanding of that term.

    Your ‘racist’ claim of ‘semi-racism’ (is this like being half pregnant?)is disgusting. I have been a great fan of Reuben and his restaurant in Franschhoek since it opened in 2004, until mid last year, and our Whale Cottage Franschhoek guests were encouraged to eat there first and foremost for seven years. Due to the poor service and reduced food quality since last year, we no longer recommend the restaurant, following the example of many other guest houses who send their guests to other better restaurants in Franschhoek.

    I think I have eaten at Reuben’s many more times than you have, so I feel qualified to comment on Reuben’s cooking skills. The Eat Out judge seems to agree too! As you and I have never met, it is presumptuous of you to judge me.


  11. Dear Candice

    I have checked back on the Tweets (yours as @GorgeousBlog) of that day.

    The few Robertson’s Tweet questions you were asked do not compare in volume and depth to those that were asked of Jade de Waal later on the same day. The ‘Twitter interview’ with her was pre-announced earlier that day, and spanned half an hour.


  12. Dear Caylee

    Please read the blogpost again if you have missed out on how Sonia used the Robertson’s account for her personal issues. Blocking an account for harmless questions asked by ourselves is not professional. Another Tweeter also received a sharp retort when Sonia did not like something he wrote.

    Sonia certainly did not write the Tweet about our ‘top SA foodie’ status – you may have seen her slanderous comments on her anonymous Twitter abuse account disparaging Robertson’s for this Tweet. This action may have cost her the job as Robertson’s Social Media Manager, judging by her personal Tweets of last night.

    Other chefs in town have never heard of her, and other than writing some cookbooks and having done a cooking program some years ago, she has no stature as a chef. She Tweets too much to have time to cook!

    In interviews with Die Burger and Rapport she proudly mentioned her new Robertson’s job title, so that automatically associates her with the brand, requiring 100% professionalism on the Robertson’s as well as her personal Twitter accounts.

    I enjoyed writing a profile about Sonia last year:

    Most readers of my blog and those that follow me ask the opposite to you, i.e. how do I find the time to run the guest houses, blog and tweet, and lead a pretty active social life. I certainly am not blogging because I have nothing else to do. I just love writing!


  13. Dear Rose

    It surprised me again how inconsistent the judges were in eliminating the aspirant chefs, some dismissed rudely, and some without explanation (there were no ‘sympathy votes’ in tonight’s edition!).

    I have already explained to Kobus that I had never seen a MasterChef program until last week, so the ‘Masterclass’ concept still is a foreign one to me.


  14. Hi Chris

    It seems like only certain ppl can crit but not u. I like that u have researched and have been able to report back and in some cases ‘make them eat their words’.

    First time here and will certainly be back


  15. So I guess you and the “eat out judge” did not receive the “wow I have arrived” treatment. Ah, you know I have seen those types all over. They expect the world to come to a standstill because they ARRIVED.

    Well, me an average citizen who loves eating out has been to Reuben’s a few times and service was always excellent and the food never disappointing. I don’t know Reuben although I had the opportunity to meet him once or twice at the restaurant in Franschhoek but he certainly deserves to be called a Chef in the true sense of the word. If you are indicating otherwise then I think your attacks on the man is personal and has nothing to do with his cooking abilities nor the service at his restaurants.

    What research has been done…you make a small little statements i.e. “Cape Town is the Twitter Capital”. When you write anything no matter how insignificant…you need to have your facts and figures at hand. So what stats can you provide to corroborate that little insignificant statement.

    What you are suggesting is a bunch of bollocks and for somebody who leaves cooking the experts maybe you should leave the critism to just that “the experts”.

    I think this blog has nothing to do with Masterchef SA or Robertsons or Sonia but you trying to discredit people to enable your flavour of the month or probably yourself to be noticed.

    I have also noticed that you are very selective on the responses which gets posted. You are a complete fake because while I was typing this comment a few of your responses were removed…i.e. Surita’s were not posted because of grammatical errors and some other person because of bad language. So you are quite selective on which responses gets posted.

    Now I wonder whether my comment will see the light of day.

  16. Dear Tracey

    I get the feeling that you haven’t read my blog before. Regular readers will know that I do not make any wild unsubstantiated claims.

    I run a Food & Wine Bloggers’ Club, and one of our speakers last year had statistics about the South African Twitter profile, from which I was quoting. Cape Town statistically is Top of the Twitter pops.

    I certainly do not expect a ‘wow’ welcome at a restaurant, and it wouldn’t be relevant to Reuben’s anyway, as I have been there numerous times over the past almost eight years. I do not accept, however, that a waiter (who happens to be Reuben’s brother and an ex-employee of ours) serving me does not talk to me, and that the Manager (who happens to be Reuben’s sister) does nothing about it. Here is the story:

    I am interested about your reference to the comments, as I am the only person who knows which comments have been received. You seem to have made up the reasons why we have rejected some comments received – bad language and grammar were not mentioned. Disparagement is not accepted, and the comment writers are welcome to resubmit their comments without it. Surita’s comment was allowed, and responded to.

    I am not blogging to get myself ‘to be noticed’, as you state, but because I love writing. You are welcome to not read the blog.


  17. Get a life Chris, and maybe a can of AXE to help you find a girlfriend cause at this rate you clearly wont have one

  18. Dear Paul

    I don’t use AXE and am not into girlfriends! You may have my gender details incorrect!

    Have a good day


Comments are closed.