SBJ/July 30 - August 5, 2001/Marketingsponsorship

Seattle restaurant chain speaks the universal language of buzz

Typically, we attribute most of the best advertising to the biggest, best-known marketers. But the ingenuity and resourcefulness of the small-budget entrepreneur should never be overlooked as a fountain of real innovation. In the face of the "usual suspect" advertising that dominated Major League Baseball's recent All-Star Game, it was a little guy who commanded a huge portion of the advertising conversation.

The little guy is Consolidated Restaurants, and the buzz stemmed from the popularity of another little guy, East-West baseball phenom Ichiro Suzuki. The idea Consolidated created was a radio ad for the popular Elliott's Oyster House and Metropolitan Grill restaurants that few of us could really understand. It's not that the selling proposition wasn't clear, or that it wasn't aired often enough on the right stations to reach the target audience. It was that the ad was in Japanese.

For Ron Cohn, owner of Consolidated Restaurants, awareness of the enormous popularity of Suzuki at home and abroad and the desire to do something that would break through and generate "buzz" spurred the idea. As a group sat on Pier 56 brainstorming (while drinking a microbrew or two or ...) someone suggested "What if we do it in Japanese?" Buzz indeed.

Listening to the ad is a slightly surreal experience. It seems formal and peaceful in tone, rather emotionless. It takes a second to process that the voice you are hearing is not speaking English. The next part of the experience is to try to place the language and then to look at your radio to see whether it's tuned to your usual station. Then, for some older listeners, there might be a War-of-the-Worlds-meets-Pearl Harbor moment. Finally, one recognizes a few words. It's impossible to flip the dial. Really well done.

I realized my Japanese was better than I originally considered when I recognized the term for baseball hero, which in Japanese is apparently pronounced as "baseball hero." Also, Consolidated offered the words Metropolitan Grill and Elliott's Oyster House in English, thank you very much.

As I have said repeatedly in this column, breaking the mold of expected advertising is difficult, but when it's done well, it opens our minds to receiving messages more clearly and compellingly. It can make small budgets act large. It can influence users with a single impact rather than battering them over the head time after time. This Consolidated ad did just that.

While it's unlikely the ad motivated too many of the thousands of Japanese tourists who visit Seattle or bilingual Japanese living in Seattle to choose Elliott's or Metropolitan Grill, the ad generated massive interest from Seattle residents and a hailstorm of national publicity. It made Cohn and his restaurants celebrities for the All-Star celebration and engineered a memory among local residents that should help ensure the restaurants' popularity for some time to come.

Elliott's Oyster House             
 Client: Consolidated Restaurants, Seattle
  Owner and President: Ron Cohn
  Agency: Dave Biehn Marketing, Seattle
  President, copywriter: Dave Biehn
  Voiceover: Takemichi Takashima

 

James H. Harris (jim@thoughtstep.com) is CEO of Chicago-based strategic marketing consultancy ThoughtStep Inc.

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