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.

Adam

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10 Comments:

Anonymous jamie ford said...

Great post Adam. Food for thought, literally.

From one reformed spin-doctor to another, you could write a thesis on this whole thing.

Here are some weird brand extensions from the last year alone:

Hooters Airline
Harley Davidson Cake Decorating Kits
Maxim Magazine Hair Color

And didn't that merchant of death itself, Philip Morris, change their name to the benign sounding "Altria?"

I did a project for ConAgra a few years back that had a new line of microwavable snacks. They called them Tantalizers. Half the women in my office thought we were marketing vibrators.

5:48 PM, April 25, 2006  
Blogger Adam Hurtubise said...

Thanks, Jamie--

I was figuring and hoping that you, the ad guy, would jump into this one.

Nice additions to the conversation.

Adam

9:56 AM, April 26, 2006  
Anonymous jamie ford said...

I forgot the most omniscient brand of all...The Oprah.

Okay, I like Oprah, she's an incredible success story. But does she have to put herself on every cover of her own magazine?

10:23 AM, April 26, 2006  
Blogger Adam Hurtubise said...

Another great point, Jamie.

Adam

2:52 PM, April 26, 2006  
Anonymous Ed Novak said...

All I could think about when reading this was MRE, Meal Ready to Eat.

3:50 PM, April 26, 2006  
Blogger Adam Hurtubise said...

Never accuse the military of good branding, Lieutenant...

You folks have much more important things to do than naming stuff.

Thanks for gracing the blog with a comment. Nice to have a sword on the page instead of all these pens.

Adam

4:04 PM, April 26, 2006  
Blogger Gib Brogan said...

Adam your post has shades of the best of George Carlin. It also made me think of the great scene in Sling Blande when they are eating potted meat:

'You really think it's got peckers in there?......

'Looky there. I believe you right. I believe I see one right in there.'

I think that Mike Myers once said that he thinks that all Scottish food is based on a dare.

12:28 PM, April 27, 2006  
Blogger Adam Hurtubise said...

I won the bet where the loser had to eat haggis, Gib.

"Shades of the best of George Carlin"? Whoah. High praise coming from you, Gib. You remain one of the smartest and funniest people I know.

Adam

12:41 PM, April 27, 2006  
Blogger M. G. Tarquini said...

I guess I do get to log the first comment about Scrapple.

I don't eat anything that starts out Scrap. It has the texture of corn meal mush without the corn meal and tastes like the leavings from the slaughterhouse floor.

It's Pennsylvania Dutch. I comfort myself with that. Now my Dad loves the stuff. But he also eats tripe.

I ate sweetbreads for the first time at Le Bec Fin. They were delicious. I was halfway through them before I realized what they were. I don't think I'd eat them now. Not with Mad Cow Disease out there.

Call it calamari, call it squid, I still love it. Anchovies are God's gift to pizza and antipasta. Talk to Dana Lin about the Spam. She's from Hawaii, actually likes the stuff. Then again, so did my father-in-law, God rest his soul, though we didn't advertise it because it's about as kosher as a ham and oyster dinner.

Agreed on the fatty goose liver. I like the occasional hot dog, but I don't think about what's in 'em.

Where's my Knob Creek? And sorry for being so long. Been writing. Been writing. On tuesday, I plan to be drinking.

And re: Jamie Ford. He's a comedian at heart. I know it. Philip Morris can change their name to Altria all they want. I see one of their anti-smoking ads, I laugh at their government mandated altruism.

I'm not sure what Haggis is. I am sure I don't want to know. I base that on the expressions people make when they even say the word.

1:09 PM, April 27, 2006  
Blogger Adam Hurtubise said...

Gotta come collect the Knob Creek in person, Mindy.

Adam

7:45 PM, April 27, 2006  

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