Monday, April 24, 2006

Branding Excercises, or "Truth in Eating"

So, I'm still high over Jim Atwell's column in the Cooperstown Crier.

I do PR in my day job, which means I read at least ten newspapers every day. Yet making time for my hometown weekly is a luxury in which I gladly partake.

For me, my hometown paper is a powerful brand. Not as powerful as Diet Coke or Knob Creek, but I know what I'm going to get every time I open or click on the paper.

Thinking about branding made me start examining which brands work and which brands don't. Since food is never far from my thoughts, I started looking at the stuff I'd eat based on its brand, or what its name conveyed.

For example: Give me pate de fois gras, and I'll eat it until the tin is empty, but ask me to eat a paste of fatty goose liver, and it's no thanks. Sometimes, the French do get it right.

Another one I haven't tried yet, but wouldn't mind tasting: Sweetbreads. But if you offered me sauteed calves' glands, I'd probably puke. That's good branding, changing the name to something that sounds delicious, and what's more delicious than... sweet... bread? Come to think of it, a few things, but you get the idea.

Other examples:

Calamari. Love it. Not wild about eating squid, but if you offer me calamari, it's great.

Anchovies: Tiny, bony, salty fish that sometimes crunch when you eat them. But if you call them by their name, instead of by their definition, you can trick your mind long enough for your taste buds to enjoy them.

Hot dogs: Okay, I think everybody loves or has loved them, but they started out as dachsunds and frankfurters. Not bad names, really. Then in the same anti-German fervor that brought us Salisbury Steak instead of hamburgers (a "patriotic" World War I nativism), people started calling them hot dogs. Okay, I don't want to eat a dog, whether it's a dog or a dachsund, but you'll never get me to eat wieners... and if you were to tell me that hot dogs were really pig intestines stuffed with ground scraps of beef and pork, well... I think I'd engage my sweetbread reaction.

Is that good branding? I have no idea, but it's better than the truth.

How about some truly awful brands?

Top of the list: Scrapple. Yes, that famous Pennsylvania Dutch breakfast something. As one friend recently explained to me, "If hot dogs are the scraps from decent cuts of beef and pork, scrapple is scraps from hot dogs." Just not a pretty picture. And the name does nothing to help it. What would you rather eat: Scrapple or sweetbreads? Exactly. Bad food branding v. good food branding.

Spam. Or as one person said when I asked about scrapple: "Scrapple is kind of like Spam. Or maybe Spam is kind of like scrapple." My paternal grandmother loved Spam. My maternal grandmother hates Spam. Notice the verb tenses? Enough said.

Liverwurst. The only "bad brand" on this list that I love. Liverwurst is one of my true guilty pleasures. But I have to stop reminding myself that the "best" thing in liverwurst is ground pork livers. And yes, it really does taste better if you make it with venison liver instead.

What are "good brands" for you? What "bad things" do they make you overlook? Or are they just good things enhancing other good things... like smoked rainbow trout?

What are "bad brands"? When does a bad name obscure a good item, or when does it convey the simple truth about a horrible item?

I like food definitions the most because you get the best potential to gross yourselves out, but if others come to mind, throw a few out there.

I was a spin doctor in my previous life, so I love these word games.

A glass of Knob Creek says the woman from Philly lodges the first comment about scrapple. I'm not sure whether she'll defend it or agree with me, but I'm guessing she'll be first.

Addendum: Jamie Ford, who works in advertising when he's not writing, has a terrific comment in the comments section for this post. Check it out.


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Thursday, April 20, 2006

From the "Shameless Self-Promotion" File

This is priceless.

One of the great things about writing in the blogosphere is that I get to meet new and interesting people from all over the place. It's especially nice when "all over the place" includes my hometown.

Anyway, as you are well aware by now, my new friend Jim Atwell "discovered" my blog because I wrote about his wonderful book, From Fly Creek (and then blogged about his discovery of my blog). He lives a couple miles south of my parents, so one thing led to another, and that "another" was cocktails with Jim and his lovely wife Anne on Easter weekend, followed by a visit to their farm.

Here is Jim's take on the situation, from this week's Cooperstown Crier.

You know, I'm glad Jim and Anne had as much fun as we did... and my one regret was the same as Jim's: We didn't spend enough time talking to each other. The guy's a Master with the English language, and we could have spent three days discussing craft.

Have I also mentioned that Jim and Anne inscribed my book? Anne, you see, did all the illustrations and graphic design for Jim's masterpiece... and now their work is on my bookshelf, to which the Saint returns it after finishing each installment.

The past few days have been really funny. Jim and I talked about a bunch of his columns, but we didn't mention things like titles, because... well... because we knew what we were talking about and we didn't need to bog ourselves down in details.

So the Saint thought we were just having random conversations about nothing. Like Seinfeld, but in Fly Creek. And now, as she reads along, I hear her saying, "Oh, that's where that one came from," and "Now I understand." It's beautiful. And you really should experience Jim's book for yourselves. Go grab it here.

The inscription on my copy, by the way, reads: "To Adam, a treasured new friend."

Treasured new friend. Couldn't have said it better, Jim. Right back atcha. Anne too.

Yes, we'll be back for the 4th, and we can't wait to see you again.