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Slick, sleek & slimy

I have fond mem­o­ries, though my cho­les­terol level does not, of eat­ing at D’Best Sand­wich Shop in Boca Raton. It’s been a few years, but as I  recently munched on a Miami Cuban-style cheeses­teak1 my mind started wan­der­ing and I got to won­der­ing if D’Best still existed. As I went look­ing for their web­site, I recalled a few of their regional twists on the cheeses­teak, like the New York style, a New Jer­sey style… not to men­tion their incred­i­ble non-steak explo­sion of an entire Thanks­giv­ing meal directly onto a bun (D’Pilgrim).

D’Best still exists, alright… but I was truly unpre­pared for what I found.

You see, back when I’d visit, D’Best-the-subshop was a place you’d leave coated with a thin layer of grill grease. Had to wait in line? You’re wash­ing your hair tonight. The place was by no means messy, but it had a cer­tain unfin­ished qual­ity to it… def­i­nitely the kind of place where the food mat­ters more than the brand­ing. I’d describe it as feel­ing some­how hon­est… com­pletely lack­ing in pre­tense. Kind of blue col­lar? Yeah, I guess.

You can prob­a­bly tell why I was expect­ing the web­site to be endear­ingly ter­ri­ble. I was ready for a lit­tle Comic Sans, an “under con­struc­tion” GIF, and a scanned paper menu — as a multi-megabyte bitmap, of course. That would seem nor­mal. Kind of quaint.

D’Best-the-website, how­ever, looks very pro­fes­sional. It’s fast, designed to mod­ern stan­dards, has eye-pleasing amounts of white­space — oh, for fuck’s sake, it’s respon­sive — and is even served over HTTPS. Oh, and did I men­tion that it’s com­pletely lack­ing in char­ac­ter? It feels like it should belong to… I don’t know, L’Best Artisi­nal Panini Bistro.2

And it very well could.

But what really raised an eye­brow was this line:

We have an unwa­ver­ing com­mit­ment to fla­vor. Con­nect with us and let us know how we are doing.

And also, this one:

We never stop short of a culi­nary expe­ri­ence you’re sure to enjoy.

D’Best’s fla­vor may not waver, but you’d never hear that out of their mouths. Their sand­wiches may be deli­cious, but a “culi­nary expe­ri­ence” they are not. This is a place where the meat gets grilled by guys in foot­ball jer­seys, back­wards base­ball caps and maybe a tat­too or two.

Some­thing was rot­ten in the state of Boca, so I plugged the above phrases into a search engine. And then I did one of these. It turns out there are at least 80,000 restau­rants whose web­sites promise the same “unwa­ver­ing com­mit­ment to fla­vor,” and look more-or-less exactly the same as D’Best’s.

All of these, includ­ing D’Best and Hick­ory Hut St. Paul, say the’re “Pow­ered by Eat­Street,” a website-in-a-box ser­vice for restau­rants. Eat­Street seems to host these sites, and pro­vides them with a generic design tem­plate as well. All of these dif­fer­ent restau­rants, from all over the coun­try, basi­cally end up with the exact same web­site, with the exact same mes­sag­ing, except for a few small tweaks.

This feels a lit­tle slimy on the sur­face, but is there any­thing wrong with it? After all, restau­rants’ web­sites are of truly hyper­local inter­est. I mean, nobody in DeKalb, Illi­nois is look­ing for D’Best. They’re more inter­ested in The Hud­dle Amer­i­can Food… which has the exact same web­site as D’Best. Sigh.

In the inter­est of being hon­est with myself, I tried to explore just which part of me was so offended by this. Was I offended as a food per­son? As a past D’Best devo­tee? Or as a copy­writer who can’t help but see this as a busi­ness get­ting by with­out need­ing the ser­vices of myself or some­one like me?

To reach the answer, I tried to put myself in the shoes of the owner of D’Best, and I real­ized that, you know, it must have been a whole lot nicer to run not just restau­rants, but most kinds of local busi­nesses before the Inter­net. Some per­son who really needs to be wor­ry­ing about keep­ing rats out of the kitchen doesn’t want to think about about build­ing and secur­ing a web­site, plus deal­ing with all the Inter­net necessary-evils (Yelp, Google, Face­book, OpenTable, Square, Foursquare, etc.) that sup­pos­edly exist to bring them cus­tomers, but instead use their stature to inter­me­di­ate the cus­tomer rela­tion­ship, and extract a recur­ring fee for doing so for the rest of for­ever. (Actu­ally, a few of those com­pa­nies would love it if D’Best decided to give up on run­ning a stand­alone website.)

If Eat­Street can keep a sim­ple site up and run­ning smoothly, plus keep it more secure than the prover­bial site-by-nephew, is that really such a bad thing? After all, a few decades in, the Inter­net is still not made for nor­mal peo­ple; there’s just too much that can go wrong if one doesn’t have the spe­cial­ized knowl­edge to do tech­ni­cal stuff prop­erly. There’s def­i­nitely value in sim­pli­fy­ing things for a nor­mal per­son who just want to run their damn busi­nesses. So even if Eat­Street is yet another friendly inter­me­di­ary, thanks to them one can order a D’Best Philly style online — con­sider my mind blown. Could that func­tion­al­ity exist with­out some cen­tral­ized ser­vice keep­ing the Inter­net gears run­ning smoothly in the back­ground, han­dling the credit cards and tak­ing a cut?

For all the upside they deliver in func­tion­al­ity and secu­rity, how­ever, Eat­Sreet sure has their ten­drils into D’Best in an inadvisably-deep man­ner — a quick whois check shows that Eat­Street actu­ally owns D’Best’s domain name. Or should I say their new domain name. I found this other domain that still con­tains an older D’Best web­site. While this site is still slicker than it should be — remem­ber, my cheeses­teak place’s site should look a lit­tle like their paper menus, minus the grease stains — this site’s a lot closer to what I would expect. There are some typos. It’s got a page where you can meet the team. It has a freakin’ FAQ page where they tell you how to reheat a cheeses­teak (which, by the way, they say you shouldn’t do).

This Inter­net archae­o­log­i­cal find is a sign that some­one once cared about and hand-crafted D’Best’s web pres­ence… but at some point said “fuck it, this Eat­Street thing doesn’t make me think.” Thanks to their scale, Eat­Street can cen­tral­ize best prac­tices for all of their cus­tomers, but they can’t cen­tral­ize the déclassé char­ac­ter, the local fla­vor, the unique greasy fin­ger­prints that inevitably end up on the web­site when it’s made by the owner’s prover­bial teenage nephew.3

While those at the helm of D’Best can do what they think works for them, it just sucks to see a place with so much fla­vor take the path lack­ing in taste. But they have cheeses­teaks to make, and as long as peo­ple keep com­ing through the door to order these greasy won­ders on bread, they don’t have any­thing to worry about.

Ulti­mately, I guess I’m just writ­ing about myself and my pref­er­ences. While you couldn’t stop me from grab­bing a cheeses­teak if I hap­pened to be in the neigh­bor­hood, from where I’m stand­ing I can’t help but see big, lazy cen­tral­iza­tion as the sworn enemy of good­ness. May I never get too big to have taste.

  1. For the curi­ous: a sin­gle slab of steak topped with swiss cheese, mayo and potato sticks — a rather unhealthy twist on the ubiq­ui­tous pan con bis­tec, and also not a cheeses­teak.
  2. A hypo­thet­i­cal restau­rant I’d also totally eat at, by the way.
  3. Just kid­ding! Kids these days don’t actu­ally know how to use com­put­ers. They’d just set up a Face­book page.

Written by Everett Guerny

September 17th, 2014 at 2:19 am

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This is relevant to my interests

I just clicked my first ban­ner ad in years. It wasn’t by accident.

Dear mar­keters, this is how you do it:

wwii-fonts

No, of course I didn’t buy anything.

Written by Everett Guerny

September 13th, 2014 at 8:22 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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The Premium McWrap packaging is very nicely designed

McDonald's Premium McWrap 1I’m clearly no stranger to mar­ket­ing, but my career hasn’t yet brought me in touch with prod­uct pack­ag­ing. I like pack­ag­ing, and I’ve actu­ally bought things over the years because they were nicely pack­aged — stuff like candy,1 Altoids Sours, some ran­dom bike part… and yes, I’ve even bought myself a few low-balance gift cards2 to keep in my this is so awe­some file.

I recently found myself impressed with the card­board pack­ag­ing around the McDonald’s Pre­mium McWrap — I should prob­a­bly go ask for a clean one while they’re still avail­able. I guess I didn’t notice when they added this item to the menu, because I ordered my first one by mis­take. My annoy­ance at pay­ing about dou­ble what I expected turned to intrigue about as soon as I peeked into my drive-through bag.

Some of that price cer­tainly went into the pack­ag­ing design. What I found wasn’t a cheap paper-clad item like stan­dard McDonald’s wraps, but some­thing that actu­ally looks like a “pre­mium” product.

  • The box is rather thought­fully designed, con­tain­ing the food very nicely within — you know, what you want from a container.
  • It has a pull-and-tear strip for open­ing the pack­age… and nat­u­rally, the strip runs right past the Xbox ad unit on the front.
  • There’s a lit­tle tab sys­tem on the side of the box that’s there pri­mar­ily to indi­cate which wrap you ordered, but also to pas­sively edu­cate you on the rest of the lineup. (“Oh look, they also have sweet chili flavor!”)
  • It doesn’t look like this should work, but once you’ve opened the pack­age, the box eas­ily stands upright, even with the wrap inside.
McDonald's Premium McWrap 2 McDonald's Premium McWrap 3

Wait, was what tasty?

  1. Still pissed that my par­ents wouldn’t buy me Bub­ble Tape.
  2. Con­fuse your local cashier today — ask for a $1 gift card!

Written by Everett Guerny

February 25th, 2014 at 9:28 pm

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Winamp — “feel the love”

Winamp 2.95I prob­a­bly haven’t used Winamp in a decade, but learn­ing that it’s finally going away for good brought it back to the top of my mind this week.

Winamp wasn’t just my pri­mary digital-music-playing-thing1 — like many peo­ple, it was the first thing I ever used to play MP3s.

Yes Junior, back then Win­dows Media Player was for CDs and WAV files, and iTunes didn’t exist yet.2

What made Winamp so awe­some? I could devote a whole post3  to the genius of Winamp skins, and things I’ve been read­ing (1, 2, 3) over­whelm­ingly ref­er­ence the clas­sic “whip the llama’s ass” sound clip — which, in addi­tion to being a neat lit­tle brand­ing thing, was per­ma­nently imprinted on everyone’s mem­ory by being the first thing that would play after installation.

Those were cool, but my favorite Winamp mem­ory is some­thing a lit­tle less… super­fi­cial, per­haps? It’s a short piece of writ­ing that long ago was fea­tured on the “About” page of winamp.com:

What is Winamp? A player you say? No, no baby. Winamp is much more than that.

Winamp is a lifestyle. It is freestyle. Give me a word. Ver­sa­til­ity? Yeah. Vision­ary? Of course. Com­mu­nity? Now you’re talking.

Winamp lives because it’s users have a life.

Winamp is in the cof­fee house. On the lap­top. Of the guy. Who is writ­ing the screen­play. That you will be watch­ing next year.

Winamp is on the screen. In the club. Where the DJ plays the tracks. That get you through the night.

Winamp is with you. When you take your playlist. Push it to the ether. And share the music that you love. With all of humanity.

Winamp lets you put together the sound­track. That runs in the back­ground of your mind. And allows you to define your life.

Winamp is your skin. Allow­ing you to look and feel the way you want.

Winamp is what it is and noth­ing more. But you are the one who makes it. Winamp is there for you. It is yours. What hap­pens next? You tell me. Down­load Winamp.

–jonathan “feel the love” ward

Read­ing it back then left me a bit misty, filled with this strangely inspired feel­ing. The piece comes to mind every once in a while, at which point I seek out a copy to re-read it. Look, I can’t point to any­thing in par­tic­u­lar that I wrote or cre­ated thanks to this inspi­ra­tion. But in some way, it made me think dif­fer­ently not just about the power of music, but the trans­for­ma­tive power of what would oth­er­wise seem like triv­ial soft­ware. Read­ing this made me feel like Winamp did more than just “play music.”

But in real­ity, that’s all it did. Or was there more?

Give me a word. Hyper­bole? Maybe. Awe­some? Undeniable.

  1. Until iTunes for Win­dows showed me the value in hav­ing a library of files. Yeah, I know Winamp has a library fea­ture, but I never used it.
  2. Oh, and by the way, MP3s were these things peo­ple used to lis­ten to before there was YouTube.
  3. And, shit, I may — Winamp was doing skeu­mor­phics before Apple did skeu­mor­phics before Apple stopped doing skeu­mor­phics.

Written by Everett Guerny

November 22nd, 2013 at 9:07 pm

No Ovaltine please — we’re cool.

As a kid, I didn’t know any­thing about Oval­tine aside from their com­mer­cials, so I hadn’t seen it as a spon­sor of clas­sic radio and tele­vi­sion, as a joke on Sein­feld, or as a big fat liar in A Christ­mas Story. I can’t remem­ber any of my friends hav­ing any­thing to say about it, either.

I was totally unbiased.

But from the company’s mar­ket­ing alone, I could tell that rich choco­late Oval­tine was uncool. I had never drunk any — and decades later, I still haven’t — but if I ever had, I cer­tainly wouldn’t have told any­one about it.

I’m not exactly sure why the stuff made my lame-sense tin­gle as a kid. Maybe because Oval­tine was named after a shape (and shapes are for lit­tle kids), or that its mar­ket­ing proudly pro­claimed that it was full of vit­a­mins (like every­thing par­ents love, and kids don’t), but what I sus­pect it was… was a lit­tle more basic than that.

Watched the ad above? Note the end­ing. “More Oval­tine, please!” closed all Oval­tine ads of my child­hood. My present-day cyn­i­cal, works-in-marketing self can imag­ine some agency sell­ing this con­cept to the Oval­tine com­pany with “Look, these kids not only love this vitamin-filled drink, but they love it so much they’ll develop man­ners and ask for it politely! Par­ents will eat this up!”

But my kid self saw things a lit­tle dif­fer­ently. “Wow, these kids are super-polite. That’s totally uncool.1 I don’t want this. Where’s the Nestlé Quik? That rab­bit is cool.”

There’s a mar­ket­ing mes­sage here, and it prob­a­bly goes a lit­tle some­thing like this:

If you have dif­fer­ent tar­gets, your mes­sag­ing needs to speak dif­fer­ently (use “code-switching”) when speak­ing to dif­fer­ent tar­gets — there’s peril to face when one tar­get receives a mes­sage tai­lored to another. It may fall on deaf ears, or maybe turn them off, entirely. Tell my mom about the vit­a­mins — tell me about the chocolate.

And so on. But there’s also a human mes­sage here:

Look, as you grow you’re encour­aged to “act your age” and as part of that, cast aside things and behav­iors asso­ci­ated with peo­ple younger than you, and instead do things that are more becom­ing for some­one as grown as you are. Soci­ety beats the kid out of you.

To be able to act your age is won­der­ful and arguably nec­es­sary… as long as you can still, as they say, “walk a mile” in smaller shoes when the sit­u­a­tion calls for it. And, of course, rec­og­nize why a kid — this kid, kind of grown up now — may not be inter­ested in your vit­a­min drink, how­ever how rich and choco­latey it might be.

 

  1. Full dis­clo­sure: I was kind of a polite kid, and I def­i­nitely thought I was uncool. Shoe fits.

Written by Everett Guerny

November 5th, 2013 at 1:31 am

Can we just drop this?

If you’re not a rap­per pro­mot­ing your new album — and espe­cially if you’re a non-rapper who works in mar­ket­ing — can you do us a favor and not use “drop” to mean “the date on which [my thing] is set to be released”?

I’m sorry you’ve cho­sen e-mail spam or what­ever the fuck you do for a liv­ing, but talk­ing about the day your new cam­paign or what­ever “drops” doesn’t make you sound hip or hard or whatever.

There is one accept­able use out­side the rap game: are you a preg­nant woman dis­cussing the date your kid is due to be born? Then that’s… actu­ally totally cool.

“Lil’ shorty drops Novem­ber 7th. Yeah.“
–Expec­tant mother

Written by Everett Guerny

October 1st, 2013 at 7:09 pm

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Movie Mom Advice from Netflix

Net­flix has me trained pretty well — I know never to read the red envelopes that show up at my place. These days, the flip side is always a promo for some exclu­sive orig­i­nal series I don’t care about. House of Cards is amaz­ing? That’s won­der­ful; let me know when I can actu­ally stream some god­damn movies, okay?

That’s why I was sur­prised when tonight’s Net­flix envelopes actu­ally man­aged to catch my eye. On my way back from the mail­box I found both clev­erly embla­zoned with dif­fer­ent life tips from movie moms. Tonight’s haul came wrapped in choice bits of For­rest Gump and Brave — timely for Mother’s Day and all that.

 

I won­der how many designs there actu­ally are in the series — I’m guess­ing far fewer than the hun­dreds the num­ber­ing sys­tem seems to sug­gest. I’ll be look­ing for more in a few days.

That’s actu­ally pretty sweet of them. I’ll… be sure to let mom know.

Written by Everett Guerny

May 3rd, 2013 at 2:13 am

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