Here’s a great promo we can all learn from: The American Dental Association has joined forces with PopCap games to offer a coupon good for a free download of “Plants vs. Zombies” as a Halloween giveaway. Just go to the ZombieMouth landing page and click the link at the top, and you can download a PDF of clip-out coupons that can be redeemed online between October 30 and November 10.
The game is available for PC or Mac, and retails for $19.95 so hopefully kids won’t mind getting the giveaway coupon in their trick-or-treat bags along with their candy. There’s no limit on how many you can print and give away. The quick redemption phase guarantees that it will go viral, and I can see “ew… you’ve got zombie mouth!” as a new meme over at Lake Ave Elementary that will encourage kids to brush their teeth.
This campaign has so many things right. The redemption is seamless. The theme is in lock step with the message that kids should brush more often. And the execution is catchy and memorable. After all the undead examples of badvertising I like to cite, it’s a pleasure to dig up an effort that has some real brains behind it.
Have you seen this? According to a media commentator, Applebee’s has a new campaign in which they are urging hipsters to dine at their restaurants “ironically” which makes sense since they are never going to get them there through conventional advertising. Take a look:
Funny thing is, Applebee’s actually is running a social media campaign that is far more bizarre as this, called “Girls’ Night Out. Life is better shared.” A Betty White character harangues ladies for spending too much time online, then tells them the solution is to get down to Applebee’s for some facetime. Take a look:
There’s also a tumblr page that anchors the campaign and has links to Pinterest and Twitter pages (no Facebook, maybe because it’s a regional campaign). All the elements of a well thought out and expensive social media campaign.
Speaking of social media, Applebee’s is also marketing this thing: which is a life size inflatable dummy you can leave at your desk while you sneak out for lunch. This one is on Facebook, where you can take the Desk Lunch Diagnosis Quiz (I am the “Break Room Hero… people are tired of cleaning up the microwave after you”).
Does this stuff work? The “goddess” video above has over 50,000 hits but how many of those are potential customers? There are only 400 plus followers on the Twitter page and the selection of inflatable dolls on Amazon was originally 7 but is now down to just 2. The bottom line is that Applebee’s is still Applebee’s (check the hashtag #applebee and you’ll get a far more realistic snapshot of Middle America’s view of the chain) and there’s only so much you can do to get hipsters to change their behavior… unless they do it ironically, perhaps.
If the National Pork Board has its way, conversations like this will soon be happening in homes across America:
He: What’s for dinner?
She: A nice chicken.
He: What’s wrong with pork? You know I love my pork.
She: We’ve already had pork seven times this week. Pork spareribs with hoisin sauce…. pork belly sliders…. crown roast of pork with apples…
He: Be inspired! How about pork sushi?
She: Wait a minute, I forgot. The Smiths are coming for dinner. They don’t eat pork.
He: Religious reasons?
She: No, they just don’t eat pork. And if you don’t eat pork, there’s no way to change that.
A little background: according to the Associated Press on March 4, 2011, the National Pork Board has decided to “move on” after 25 years promoting its product with the highly recognizable slogan, “The Other White Meat”. The new tag lie is… wait for it… “Pork: Be Inspired.” According to Ceci Snyder, the Des Moines, Iowa-based board’s vice president of marketing, “we want to increase pork sales by 10 percent by 2014. To do that, we needed to make a stronger connection, a more emotional connection to our product.”
The AP story goes on to note that pork consumption averaged 50 pounds per person in 2010, compared to 61 pounds for beef and 70 pounds for chicken. However, “research done by the Pork Board shows 28 percent of U.S. households make up nearly 70 percent of the nation’s at-home consumption of fresh pork. The new campaign is aimed at getting existing pork consumers to think more about how they can incorporate it into their meal planning.”
The old campaign is not exactly being retired, however. The old slogan will remain on the Pork Board’s website and on apparel sold by the board, but web searches for “Pork: The Other White Meat” will direct people to the new campaign…
Let’s break down this grisly carcass, shall we?
The Message: Some might say that a slogan that is not actually used, and is instantly forgettable, is not actually a slogan. So let’s move past that.
The Marketing: under what circumstances does a product throw up its hands at trying to get new customers and instead focus on keeping the customers it has and getting them to buy more? The cigarette industry comes to mind, what else? Presumably the pork folks had good research that told them that a/no new pork eaters could be acquired and b/the current audience could be profitably convinced to up their pork consumption, but both assumptions seem very strange to me.
The comparative stats tell me the pork eaters are in fact doing some pretty heavy lifting already, pound for pound enjoying pork at 1 of ever 3 meals compared to the other two protein sources. And in fact pork’s shortfall might be explained entirely by the fact there are no pork fast food stores as there are burger joints and chicken shacks.
But never mind that, if we stipulate that we can only succeed by getting pork eaters to eat more pork, what kind of marketing might do that? Hey, how about… “the other white meat”? We all think of chicken as a versatile ingredient… pure genius to put pork on the same pedestal. And certainly much better than an exhortation that sounds like it might have been the product of a committee planning a high school homecoming dance.
And the funny thing is that the only people who will actually get to see the new slogan are people who do a web search for the old slogan. That’s right, we’ll take that tiny percentage of people who take advertising messages to heart and we’ll toss a bucket of farm waste in their face. Do a search for “The Other White Meat” to see how enjoyable this is.
The Morality: Secretly, I am happy about this fiasco and here’s why. In 1988 when “The Other White Meat” hit our butcher counters, its purpose was to promote the new trend to factory farms which fed pigs lean foods in order to produce a leaner product as compared to the traditional happy pigs rooting in the farmyard. A bonus was that the conditions in these factory farms stressed out the pigs (an animal more intelligent than a dog) so much that their flesh was watered down by stress hormones.
If we have been unsuccessful in convincing people to eat lean meat from tortured pigs, perhaps that is not entirely a bad thing.
The Fancy Food Show was jam-packed at San Francisco’s Moscone Center…. good news for business but making it difficult to navigate during a truncated visit this week. Here are some highlights:
Trending up: fancy soda
Trending up: cured meats, especially Serrano and Parma hams. I remember when it was a rare treat to get a slice of one of these beasts; this year they are everywhere. Though oddly enough, the salt content of most seems significantly reduced from classic preparations. There was also a jerky stand advertising 50% less sodium than traditional jerky. Also, lots of high-end sodas.
Trending down: nuts. Once a massive snack category, the vendors showing fancy smoked and salted nuts are today few and far between, Too much fat for today’s snacker? Baja Bob’s, a low calorie cocktail maker, can pour you a margarita for 60 calories vs 240 calories for a regular margarita. The benefit of which, they explain, is that your date will have more than one.
Down and out: gluten free everything, All of last year’s signs were gone. Also, vendors trumpeting the ‘USDA Organic” certification were rare even though a pavilion was set aside for them. May be that, as some of the folks at Terra Madre Day speculated, the designation is cumbersome and simultaneously lets in questionable products while not defining a level of quality that is actually useful.
Paul Bertolli and his wonderful head cheese
Product of the year: Testa di Porco (head cheese) from Fra’mani. Paul Bertolli has been threatening to bring this product to market for several years and last Sunday it happened. Ethereal. It’s not little bits of this and that like traditional head cheese but nice big chunks of celery-cured ham held together with a clove-y gelee. People were standing in line for this one.
Trend to watch: consolidation. NYC-based Rick’s Picks, to take one example, is now shipping 10 standard products rather than 14 in the past. In a tough economy retailers can’t be asked to stock that many SKU’s. Rick says there’s a demand for “spears” but that yen is now satisfied with a classic dill sour (really crunchy and good) and the green bean and asparagus spears have been put out to pasture.
Most popular giveaway: showgoers who traveled across the country, and could have all the food they wanted, stood in a long line to get a tea press with the Tea Republic logo. Starbucks take note.
On the plane heading to CES in Las Vegas, I decided to think about innovations I’d LIKE to see prior to reading my sheaf of press releases to find out what I actually am GOING to see. This year I’m not looking for any dramatic product category breakthroughs. Instead I’m on the prowl for stuff that makes our life easier, especially when it comes to food and eating related tasks.
The iGrill Bluetooth thermometer mentioned yesterday is a good place to start. It’s pretty intuitive how it works without knowing much more than the name. You can be sitting in front of the game indoors and still monitor the temperature of your meat (or perhaps the internal temperature of the grilling chamber) and when it’s done, get up and waddle out into the sunlight to collect your perfectly smoked brisket.
At $99, the iGrill seems a bit pricey for a one-trick pony. It would be nice if, after reading the temperature, it can do something for you… like turn off the heat (if it’s a gas grill) or dump a fresh supply of wood or charcoal on the fire. And hey, how about a really smart convection oven that can show you temperature and airflow in your oven in a heat map diagram on your iPad and you can move your finger around to adjust things? Or, a device that releases an even supply of steam inside the oven to produce a perfect loaf of crusty bread? That doesn’t need to be electronic, probably, just a fancy teapot with tricky vents and valves. I’m digressing a bit…
Lots of devices are integrated systems these days…. think of your dishwasher, or clothes washer, and the multiple functions that happen at the touch of a button. These things are controlled electronically, so theoretically it does not seem to me complicated or expensive to add a software interface that lets you monitor and modify what’s going on. Then add the Bluetooth connection and software on the computing device, and you’re in business, right?
Every year there are a number of platform areas at CES…. a number of vendors following a common standard such as X-10 or Zigbee. The booths often seem kind of sad and underfunded and it’s hard to see them starting a revolution. Meanwhile some of the big vendors, often Panasonic, will develop a technology on their own and if it takes off then others adopt it. Such is the inefficient platform development system in conumser electronics.
I’d also like to see a solution that lets you retrofit a remote control, software based interface to legacy gadgets… like Slingbox, but for my bread machine. I have been fiddling with one of these devices and it shows promise. So, what if I want to set it from the road to turn on and have a hot fresh loaf waiting when I come home? Slingbox’s secret is that it uses infrared technology,… a communications channel between the home entertainment system and a remote that is already there. The only interface to the bread machine is your finger. But, you’re saying, I could do all the programming and have some kind of delayed device to give power to the machine. That might work on some models but not mine; you have to unplug then plug it back in to input cycle instructions.
I am eager to see if some smarter soul has figured out some of these things for me…..
Yesterday was the local observance of Slow Food’s Terra Madre (Mother Earth) Day, sponsored and beautifully organized and presented in the kitchens and dining room of Schenectady County Community College chef and Saratoga chapter president Rocco Verrigni. I sat in on a mega panel discussion followed by a mega tasting of fare prepared by rising chefs; there were also student presentations and a screening of the short film “Green Beef”.
Chefs and farmers in the kitchen on Terra Madre day
The panel discussion featured local farmers (from Saratoga Springs down to the area below the Mohawk River), chefs and restaurateurs discussing their “successes, issues and stories”. Successes for me included clues of how these folks are taking small steps to become commercially viable. Tod Murphy of Vermont’s Farmer’s Diner has the goal of serving local and naturally raised meals at prices farmers can actually afford; he does this by negotiating with farmers a scale larger than boutique/retail/farmers market enterprises and by staying away from steaks. Michael Kilpatrick, a local farmer, described his success in bringing year-round vegetable growing to Saratoga; he is just 23 and I am happy he will be around far longer than me.
Slow Food snail cookies baked by SCCC students
Michael was one of several to describe an “issue”: it’s difficult to follow the national standards for “Certified Organic” so as a result none of them does it. Kilpatrick Family Farm can’t be organic because they use a sheeting product called Biotelo for their winter mulching and though biodegradable, it’s not organic-approved. Noah Sheetz, executive chef of the governor’s mansion in Albany, described another problem, which is the practicality of coordinating multiple purveyors for poultry, produce, dairy etc. plus having a backup when somebody’s delivery truck breaks down. Sysco, by offering one-stop shopping for quality products, has made it too easy for many kitchens; what’s needed is a Sysco for natural producers.
Chef Christopher Tanner and his meat curing closet
The food presentations ranged from a perfect half moon of roasted acorn squash to a groaning board of charcuterie prepared by the SCCC students in Garde Manger II, which has done nothing but make sausage all semester long. Chef Christopher Tanner showed off his curing closet for prosciutto and Westphalian ham, made by stripping the shelves from a wine cabinet and adding an off-the-shelf humidifier. Local students pay just $3533 for learning all this and virtually all of them are offered jobs in the industry at the end of their two-year program.
During the breaks there was plenty of time to talk with local farmers and make new friends along with lists of places to go and dine and find new food near Saratoga. The only bad news is that the season has ended for many of these folks (which is why they could take the day off) so I’ll have to wait for spring for many of my forays.
I was introduced to Durkee’s Famous Sauce as a college freshman at the home of my roommate Reynold. His mother invited a homesick boy into their home for Thanksgiving and I discovered a ritual which included eating leftovers in sandwiches the day after with turkey, cranberry sauce, last night’s wilted salad, reheated dressing and gravy if you wanted it… all served on sturdy bread with a generous slathering of Durkee’s. That day their ritual became my own tradition.
Durkee's jars through the decades. Click for a larger version to read the ingredient lists.
Durkee’s Famous Sauce is a niche product, literally, that somehow manages to hold onto a sliver of shelf space in many supermarkets year after year. It is a mayonnaise-mustard combination with extra richness that tastes like additional egg yolks… but the effect in a sandwich is more complex than that. It’s the sauce that holds its own when a lot of flavor notes are present. And though I know there are other uses, it is such a perfect partner with turkey (smoked as well as Thanksgiving leftovers) that I have never wanted to venture further.
There is lore suggesting Durkee’s is a traditional American recipe that was served, among other places, in the White House by Mary Todd Lincoln. But in fact the recipe has been through some changes over the years, as has the provenance of the expensive little jars. During my time the proprietorship has shifted from Burnes Foods of San Francisco (but manufactured in Canada), Tone Brothers of Ankeny IA, and currently ACH Food Companies of Memphis. The ingredient list shows that corn oil has been replaced by soy oil and water has moved ahead of vinegar as the second component with subtle changes in the preservatives further down the line.
By the time I am ready to open a new jar, the old one is either empty or pretty well past its prime so I have never been able to do a head to head taste test. But I do believe that the taste has remained consistent through all these permutations. Hats off to the food chemists… and Thanksgiving leftovers!
I for one could not get enough of the rescue of the Chilean miners yesterday. I spent much of the day watching “Miner TV” and I quickly switched to Telemundo so I could actually hear the statements of the rescued miners instead of Larry King talking over them. It was an inspiring example of teamwork on both ends of the tunnel and a testament to what determination and a little technology can accomplish.
The haters (including a few journalists) are now saying that it was no big deal, they weren’t actually in that much danger. Balderdash. For the first 17 days, when they had no idea whether they would be rescued, the miners subsisted on 48 hours worth of rations and when they were discovered the bloodwork showed their systems had started to feed on themselves from dehydration. The medics up top knew that to quickly bulk them up with candy bars or other sugar sources would send them into shock. So the miners got copious liquids… first water, then energy drinks, gradually giving way to protein and finally to empanadas that were specially shaped to fit in “la paloma”, the tube used for lowering supplies into the mine. By the time of the rescue, there was a little concern that some of the miners would fit into the rescue cylinder.
I predict that some entrepreneur will quickly come to market with “The Chile Miners Diet” consisting of this process… but in reverse. Start with a normal diet then strip away everything except protein and ultimately water. Hopefully it will stop at that point before the miners’ original state is reached. You read it first right here.
As long as it is on or near a lake or stream, an upstate NY vacation home is called a “camp”. There’s usually some concession to rusticity without really roughing it. In the case of my wife’s camp, it is a stove with only two burners (the others having been destroyed in a flood), a collection of pots inherited from her parents, and country cupboards which not only conceal their contents, but move them around when I am not looking so I can’t find an ingredient at the exact moment I need it.
I am up here with my two boys and I have learned to make weekly specials at the local market my friend; if it is advertised in the flyer they are more likely to actually have it at the lone store in town. Shopping with a preplanned meal in mind: very bad idea.
We tend to make a big pot of something and repurpose it over several days. Chicken Cacciatore (prepared with Mr. Purdue’s bargain leg quarters, not the prissy organic birds we buy “down the line”), carnitas and Texas chili (beans on the side) have figured so far. There is a steady stream of teen and preteen boys through the kitchen requesting hot chocolate, which is a good thing because I found three boxes of Nestle Cocoa in the cabinets, all expiring in 2010. Now looking for ideas to draw down a dozen half used boxes of pasta and 4 bags of lentils; when one wants to be sure something is on hand in camp, one tends to bring it up from the city forgetting one did the same thing last year, and the year before.
I have learned to successfully cook coffee in a stovetop percolator (the secret: don’t use too much coffee, or the water can’t seep through from the top grounds to the bottom) and broil on an ancient gas grill prone to flareups (always have a can of beer in your hand…. that’s to put out any leaping flames).
I look forward to being back in a kitchen where the utensils and equipment will do what I ask them to, and forgotten ingredients are five minutes away, but it is nice to have limitations and learn to stick with them. I am in awe of caterers and “secret kitchen” chefs who work like this every day.
The past month I’ve been cooking in two unfamiliar kitchens, the first being the San Francisco bachelor/bachelorette pad shared by several friends of my daughter and the second the “camp” belonging to my wife in the Adirondacks.
In San Francisco, my task was to prepare a Texas brisket meal for 60 people for the wedding party. I knew what I was in for and brought a number of key components with me, including my chef’s knife, a stack of aluminum trays and several necessary spices. But there were some things too big to carry on the plane, like the brisket itself and hickory chunks for the smoker (my old one from Phillip Claypool, which had been kindly stored in the back yard of the same SF flat). Chunks were hard since not only are San Franciscans not known for their smoking but in fact there is a city ordinance against open fires; finally I found a small expensive bag at Action Rentals, which also rents cooking equipment.
Brisket, on the other hand, was a major score. Cash & Carry, a restaurant wholesaler, had USDA Choice for $1.57 a pound… a lower price than I’ve ever seen in Texas. They also had an enormous bag of shredded cabbage at the same per-pound price I’d paid for the 10 pounds I’d just shredded myself to make sour slaw, so I added that to the hand truck. I stood in line with several other happy guys sharing hints (but no trade secrets) for what we were going to do with our brisket.
I was prepared for challenges in the prep, just didn’t know what they would be. The beans (to be used for Jack Daniels style baked beans eventually) were precooked in another alien location, the galley kitchen of the “home away” where I was staying with my boys; I used every pot and pan in the place. Back at the flat, the cookspace turned out to be tiny and without a cutting surface so I went out and bought a cutting board, the only outright cookware purchase I made. And I had too many briskets to fit in the smoker so I had to cook them in two batches, making for a 10 am to midnight cooking day. Fortunately the apartment dwellers were away at the formal pre-wedding ball where I was supposed to be; I put in an appearance then scurried back to tend my brisket and I knew the culinary gods were smiling when I was able to carry four trays of dripping brisket down three flights of stairs to my car parked in the towaway zone without spilling anything on my fancy duds.
The meal turned out just like it was supposed to, served the next night to hungry people at a conference center in the redwoods who kept coming back for seconds, which I was happy to be able to offer them. One half a brisket made it through the night and for the rest of the weekend whenever you went into the kitchen at the center (which hadn’t been available to me for prep) you’d see somebody surreptitiously sneaking a scrap out of the fridge. Among them were the renowned caterers who prepared the next night’s wedding feast, high praise indeed.