Word-of-Mouthfeel and the Democratization of Chow

I’ve written about food and drink before, and love to talk & think about food. It is such a powerful part of our cultural experience, and the most vivid examples of (literal) consumption and branding tend to come from the realms of food and drink. If you haven’t seen the Journal of Customer Behaviour article that Stephen Brown, John Sherry, and I did on retro brands that involved Quisp cereal, you can see a final version of it here: Sell Me The Old, Old Story: Retromarketing Management and the Art of Brand Revival.

I’ve been wondering and observing word of mouth, or maybe it *is* word-of-mouthfeel lately and wondering to myself: Is junk the new haute?

Think for a second about the question: What would make a relatively mundane, maybe old-and-tired CPG (that consumer packaged goods, for you neos and mundanes) brand actually exciting enough to be community-able? And I don’t mean the tame, paid-for-content panelgroupies of Communispace and the other paid-to-play online groups, but the Real Deal, the died in the wool enthusiasts who can’t wait to hit the blog, complain, relish, and love their surfing, comic booking, programming, SF, Heroes, Apples, BMWs, Harleys, or whatever else tickles them enough to go out there and organize and post and collect and produce and share and write…..<pant, pant>

I was perusing my airline magazine this month, which is the font of many good ideas and was struck by the number of articles about food. And not only food-food, the big bucks food you get in the fancypants restaurants that the people flying First Class can afford, but Real Food, Das Food of the People, and even Food that Blurs The Line between haute cuisine and low food, junk food.


So there’s one glorious article by David McGimpsey, accompanied by incredible food porn shots by Dan Monick (a lovely, fleshy centerspread to start things off) about the food of Los Angeles “where the most iconic food is at the drive thru.” This piece celebrates the hottest hot dogs at Pink’s which include the bacon-and-sauerkraut-topped “Martha Stewart.” The “surreal combo” of friend chicken accompanied by waffles offered at Roscoe’s (it comes with both maple syrup and gravy). The donuts of Randy’s. The Korean barbecues and double-dipped chicken sandwiches. And of course Of Course In-N-Out Burger. The Cult of In-N-Out Burger, whose word of mouth is positively flammable. From tacos to pulled pork to fried chicken sandwiches, the whole article is an eat your way through the junk food of LA and revel in it, glory in it, celebrate it, guide.

And in the exact same issue, a few pages later, is the story of Daniel Boulud of Manhattan’s DB Bistro, one of the chiquest chefs in the world, and his…hamburger. Yes, his hamburger. And fries. Ground sirloin stuffed with braised short ribs, foie gras, and preserved black truffle, made to order on a freshly based sesame seed, no strike that, Parmesan, bun. Served with pomme frites in a parchment-lined silver cone. We’re all reading stories of these hundred-plus-buck superburgers now, but do I sense a trend?

I’ve always loved the democratization of taste and communication heralded by the Internet. Now we’ve got democratization of food, glorification of junk, elevation of junk both for what it is (bare, essential, authentic) and for what it can become (something to artfully experiment with at the highest levels of expertise and high culture).

I’ve written about the democratization of the adult entertainment industry in a past blog posting. I’m fascinated by Reality TV and what it signals and heralds. My research began with cult TV show followings–how could anything be more low culture and mundane? And explored and exploded those low-high boundaries. I’m all about worshiping cults, developing democracies, beatifying boundary-spanning, trumpeting the artful and richly meaningful communities that form around the stuff that others consider detritus.

Everything is being elevated and reduced as people are communication, sharing, voicing their opinions as never before. Where is it going to lead us? What are we doing to do with this new-found power to span cultural bridges and broaden our horizons? These are such exciting, challenging, interesting times, aren’t’ they?

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