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Koka Kola; or, "The Way They Sell Food"
Friday, May 04, 2007 | posted by Mike

I have advertising on the brain right now. Part of that is the trip that I was just on, which had me sitting in rooms all day with people who create and shoot commercials for a living. We talked quite a bit about the strategies behind advertising, and it was an interesting discussion.

The other reason I have been thinking about advertising is the fact that they've been running a new Applebee's/Tyler Florence commercial lately. This one features the Bruschetta Burger. The spot is pretty good because (if memory serves me correctly) he pronounces "bruschetta" correctly and, like the last bunch of Tyler/Applebee's commercials, the thing looked pretty darn tasty. Frankly, if you put pesto on anything, I'll bite.

But the appetizing burger that Tyler was preparing got me thinking. It looks good now, but how would it look on the plate at my local restaurant. I don't eat at Applebee's enough to know how well-presented their dishes are, and I know that "casual dining" chains like that do a better job with presentation than fast food joints, but my mind immediately went to this site, which made the rounds a couple of weeks ago and which you should absolutely go check out.

One of the biggest clichés in advertising is that you "sell the sizzle, not the steak." It's fitting that they should use a food metaphor because nobody is more guilty of this tactic than food and restaurant advertisers. How many times have you been excited to try a new item, only to have it come out looking nothing like the commercial or print ad?

Of course, a lot of this comes out of the advertising put out by fast food chains. They have food stylists and professional photographers shooting the ads. But you're much more likely to have Beavis & Butthead in the kitchen of these places than you are to have a Bobby Flay in-the-making.

A great chef has a couple of traits. Obviously, he or she must have a fantastic palate, a sense of creativity and a passion for the food. But they also must be able to run a kitchen in a way that ensure that the food going out to customers is prepared and plated according to exact specification. You'll just never get that at a chain fast food place and a chain casual dining restaurant will only be as good as its local staff.

But we're introducing the whole food TV aspect into the equation, and that makes it a little more interesting. Just like those advertisers, food celebrities prepare the food, but the "hero" shot is almost always a plate that has been reworked by a stylist. The exception, of course, is some of the plating monstrosities turned in by Emeril on Emeril Live. They're terrible. I'm not even joking about that.

So when a celeb lends his or her name to dishes at a chain restaurant (or to any other product, for that matter), they're opening themself up to criticism if it doesn't match the public's expectations of how it should taste or look. These dishes need to use high quality ingredients. They need to be prepared strictly according to the recipe. And they need to be presented in a way that makes the chef's involvement seem reasonable. That's a lot of trust to put into a restaurant chain, and you have to commend chefs who enter into these arrangements and then demand that kind of quality.

Anyway, that's my two cents. If any of you have tried any of these dishes or have thoughts on the matter, drop me a line or leave a comment.

FRIDAY FUN TIME: Hey, since it's the weekend, here's a little fun contest. The title of this post, "Koka Kola," is an obvious reference to the soft drink that OWNS Atlanta, the city I just visited. (Seriously, I went three days without seeing a Pepsi product.) But the funny spelling is appropriate in another way. What is it? (Hint: If you remember the last time we did one of these, that would put you on the right path.)

The winner who posts a comment or e-mails me will receive a "TVFF Gift Pack," which includes a mention in next week's Crumbs post and the grudging respect of all of your friends. Budgets are tight, people.



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