8 Forbidden Food Marketing Ideas

8 Forbidden Marketing Terms

Maybe if you don't allow yourself to think them, you'll come up with better ones.

By Charlie Hopper

Previously I’ve declared words you should stop using to describe your food.

My blacklist: Delicious, Delectable, Succulent, Sumptuous, Scrumptious, Mouth-Watering, Piping Hot, Grilled to Perfection (or anything “To Perfection”), Treat Your Tastebuds, Taste Sensation/ Celebration/ Explosion, Golden-Brown/Tender-Flaky, Yum(my), Palate-Pleasing, Luscious, Like Grandma/Mom/Other Fictional Female Relative Used To Make.

I made that list to be useful: to force everyone, including myself, to come up with something more unexpected, informative, amusing, something that might actually capture someone’s attention.

Now, a corollary: Eight Forbidden Food Cliché Concepts to Never Use.

Next time you’re trying to influence a stranger’s behavior, try not doing one of these:

1. The White-Smocked Chef

You can picture it: A toque-topped chef in white hustles through a chaotic kitchen – inspired, demanding, a gleam in the eye.

The problem, besides being a cliché: While it might elevate QSR and connote creativity or high standards, our chef blends in with every other back-of-the-house message.

Starter idea: Is there a different origin story, moment of inspiration or character—a supplier, such as a farmer, maybe? Just someone wearing something other than those traditional whites.

2. The Overly Excited Customer

You can picture it: They bite, smile and gesture with their fork, laughing (a lot, a-ha-ha-ha-ha, more than most of us laugh in a year), amazed at what’s delivered by anonymous servers.

The problem, besides being a cliché: Clearly, it’s manipulative to simply demonstrate what you wish your customers felt. It’s also easily dismissed – most consumers won’t react negatively to it; they just won’t react.

Starter idea: If you must “demo” the food (most people know what to do with food, but okay), let actors and models behave naturally. Invite viewers in, as if to join real people at a real table.

3. The Conveniently Knowledgeable Expert

You can picture it: This happens in radio all the time, but in other media also – one person doesn’t know anything, the other somehow knows everything, and by good fortune they meet near a microphone or camera. Often the know-it-all is portrayed as a spokesperson. But they’re still a know-it-all.

The problem, besides being a cliché: Well, it’s just lazy, and it’s not interesting. Again, most of your customers don’t care enough to be irritated, but they’re also not going to empathize or identify with your shill. You’re likely to lose them from the start.

Starter idea: If you’ve got a spokesperson, fine. Don’t fake a conversation, though – allow them to speak directly to me, the listener or viewer. Avoid self-serving copy points in a not-funny skit. NOTE: Is the skit funny? Go right ahead. If you’re sure it’s funny.

4. The Lovingly Lingering Camera

You can picture it: “Gaze upon our edibles!” Yet there’s no idea to the photography, just an expensive camera focused with stalker-like lust around a pile of ingredients, or footage of a hand model pulling, cutting, lifting perfectly sculpted food.

The problem, besides being a cliché: Idealized food isn’t real – memories of that image will evaporate like mist when the next photo or commercial comes along.

Starter idea: Try including some process photography, maybe never showing a perfect finished product – let it be a little rough, unrehearsed, unfussy. Realism can be pretty tempting. (I might say it tempts your tastebuds, but then I immediately prevent myself.)

5. The Happy Pig, The Happy Lobster

You can picture it: Porky Pig’s cousin seems so glad to be your sausage, your bacon, your BBQ. That red (therefore boiled-already) lobster feels lucky to be your meal.

8 Forbidden Marketing terms 2The problem, besides being a cliché: Funny how we accept it, since we’ve seen it before – but no happy beef cows promote Black Angus burgers; no happy hens and codfish wave from the margins of menus.

Starter idea: Maybe it’s true, we’re too far from the farm and now we’re a bunch of squeamish wimps. But really, what if you found a different way to lighten the mood?

6. The Great Leader

You can picture it: It’s him! (Or her.) He (or she) symbolizes the entrepreneurial zeal it took to ignite this restaurant into a famous business.

The problem, besides being a cliché: Kid, when it comes to being a media personality whose presence is not only charming but also underscores wordlessly some important brand pillar, well, you either got it or you don’t. Either you have excellent advisors, writers and handlers, or you don’t. The Colonel did. Bob Evans did. Improbably, Dave Thomas did. Most of you don’t.

Starter idea: Maybe a spokesperson (like Jack of Jack-in-the-Box) who approximates a founder? Maybe. Keep thinkin’, sir/ma’am.

7. The Vaunted Technique

You can picture it: The brushing of the sauce onto the meat. The firing of the wood oven. The ___-ing of the ____.

The problem, besides being a cliché: Well, it’s a good idea, but if it’s a purely visual process shot, there’s not a lot of understanding most people bring to what they’re lookin’ at. If it’s briefly described, it may still not be clear. But then, if you say too much, maybe you’re getting tedious?

Starter idea: Think benefit, not feature. Textbook marketing – what does the __[slow-roasting/fire-grilling]___-ing do? What is the advantage to me, the viewer?

8. The Parenthetical Deal

You can picture it: After the main part of the communication, on a separate topic, an announcer or graphic tacks on a mention of some kind of bargain at the end of an advertisement, very quickly.

8 Forbidden Marketing Terms 3The problem, besides being a cliché: Everybody has some kind of 9.99 2-for-$20 5-buck-appetizer type deal, and unless it’s surprisingly expressed or genuinely new, it gets mixed up with everyone else’s.

Starter idea: Again, what’s the benefit of the deal? You can spend a little more on the wine, you can bring a friend, you can get the kids dessert so they’re quiet and happy even after they’ve had to sit for a long time. That’s how you get people to engage their imagination: tell them in human terms how your idea helps them.

Try thinking beyond the usual. You may be the one to come up with an unfamiliar idea that persuades a formerly disinterested non-customer to remember you – to think of you after your message is no longer right in front of them. Mmm, communications just like Grandma used to make.

Charlie Hopper, principal/writer of ad agency Young & Laramore, shares views on restaurant marketing at SellingEating.com, as well as in recently published books “Nuggets, Nibbles, Morsels, Crumbs: Selected Restaurant Marketing Columns from Food & Drink International,” and “Selling Eating: Restaurant Marketing Beyond the Word Delicious.” Hopper is known for his unique and witty perspective on food and restaurant brands and is a regular contributor to Food & Drink International. 

Photo credit: Zac Neulieb, Senior Art Director at Young & Laramore

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