Archive for the ‘Branding’ Category

You are reading the menu at a really nice restaurant. You’re in the mood for seafood. After careful study, you see it, the perfect choice. Ordering this delicacy will doubtless distinguish you as a sophisticated gastronome.

You order Chilean sea bass.

Your dinner announces its arrival with aromatic promise. Your first bite confirms that you made the right choice. What could be better than Chilean sea bass, cooked to perfection?

But what you are really eating is Patagonian toothfish, Dissostichus eleginoides, a large, long-living, incredibly ugly yet exceptionally tasty fish that thrives in the cold waters of the South Atlantic. Reaching up to seven feet in length and living for up to fifty years, this popular entree in restaurants the world over remained largely unnoticed until 1984 when the seafood industry decided to rebrand the Patagonian toothfish into the ever-more-palatable Chilean sea bass.

Four years later, fleets of Russian fishing vessels appeared specially equipped to take away large quantities of this enormous creature. That marked the turning point in the rebranding of the Patagonian toothfish. From that austral summer in 1988, the lowly fish with the unseemly name, now recast as the elegant Chilean sea bass, became a much-loved staple of restaurants worldwide.

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” So said Juliet of her lover’s last name in Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet. With the rebranding of the ill-named fish, Chilean sea bass has become a highly prized dinner choice and a lucrative catch. 

I wish I could report a happy ending to this rebranding effort. But, as is often the way of humans, we find a good thing and overdo it. The Patagonian toothfish, aka, Chilean sea bass, is now in danger from large-scale illegal fishing. A new name and a new image made this fish a popular meal, in fact so popular and valuable that it has been called the “white gold of the Southern oceans”.

Can we save the Patagonian toothfish? Perhaps it is time to select a more sustainable entree. I think I’ll just have a salad.

(Thanks to Simon Winchester’s compelling book, Atlantic, HarperCollins, 2010)


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For thousands of motor racing fans, including me, today is a very special day. The running of the Daytona 500 is Super Bowl and World Cup and World Series and Stanley Cup and Masters all in one spectacular event.

But in these times of economic turmoil, which has hit the auto industry particularly hard, would it be as big a deal as in the past? From the look of things today, you bet.

The event was sold out. Over  200,000 race fans were on hand to see NASCAR’s biggest event.  Even though rain stopped the race with about 50 laps to go, veteran race car driver Matt Kenseth sobbed over winning this premier event. It’s ironic; a guy like Kenseth who can race a car three-wide on a high-banked oval at 190 miles per hour inches from the next cars, breaks down and weeps over winning this prestigious event.

This is the Daytona 500. It’s Ben-Hur versus Messala with 600 horses powering their chariots.

Detroit’s Big Three, GM, Ford, and Chrysler, have all cut their marketing budgets, but they only trimmed their NASCAR expenditures. I’ve read estimates from auto analysts that GM cut its spending on NASCAR from a high of approximately $125 million a year to about $85 million. Ford is reported to have cut its NASCAR spending by approximately 35 percent. The auto companies usually won’t disclose the information. But there is no way they will abandon NASCAR.

Savvy auto marketers know that stock car racing remains a great way to attract buyers. It’s simple enough to see why NASCAR and the auto makers are so dependent on each other.  A winning Chevy or Ford or Dodge or Toyota brings buyers into the showroom. To withdraw from this scene might surely mean loss of market share.

NASCAR-related expenditures for advertising and promotion pay big dividends for a wide variety of products, not only autos. NASCAR fans are traditionally fiercely brand loyal to products that support NASCAR racing. Just read the drivers’ racing suits and the decals on their cars. You’ll see all types of products that marketers know have hugely loyal followers because they support their beloved racing.

The Daytona 500 kicks off the NASCAR racing season. The show of loyalty and enthusiasm over today’s race was startling given the economic gloom and doom that surrounds us. Perhaps people need the race to forget about the hard times for a while. Or perhaps, as with a hint of spring, there is some optimism creeping in.

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We have a family friend visiting us while on sabbatical from Tulane University. We took her to Mount Vernon today to show her George Washington’s home. It’s a wonderful half-day historical excursion if you’re ever in the Washington, D.C. area.

Being that the place is lovingly restored and open to the public in honor of the first president of the world’s greatest capitalist country, the gift shops are magnificent. The main gift shop, the last stop before you dodge tour buses en route to your car, is truly interesting.

In it there are a zillion items that relate directly to George Washington and his wife, Martha. There are a few thousand more that relate to Mount Vernon, the farm itself.

Then there are a selected few that don’t seem to relate to anything except capitalism. For example, you can buy a $500 amber necklace, a $4,800 coin minted in Washington’s time, and a $2 shot glass with “Mount Vernon” written on it.

The restoration, preservation, and presentation of George Washington’s home as it was when he lived there is truly a monument to America’s reverence for its proud history. This stunningly accurate and compelling restoration is a must-see when you come here.

But the gift shop is a microcosm of how goofy our beloved country can be.  The $2 Mount Vernon shot glass is evidence of this.

You can see the little melodrama unfold. Miroslav comes to D.C. on business from Zagreb, gets taken site-seeing to Mount Vernon, and shops for a gift for wife, Dubravka. Days later, here’s the scene back in Zagreb:

“Dubravka, honey, I’m home! I missed you so much in America.”

“Miroslav, darling, I’m so happy to have you home. Did you bring me anything from America?”

“Yes, my love. I brought you this most useful shot glass from Mount Vernon. It has great historical significance.”

“What! No amber necklace?”

Right about now, you are thinking what Dubravka is thinking: Garage sale.

“Miroslav, you wiener! What possible historical significance can this silly Mount Vernon shot glass have?”

“Dubravka, my pet, that is simple: George Washington slurped here.”

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