At a recent lunch, a client commented that one of the hardest adjustments his wife from South Africa has had to make to living in the United States is adapting to how consumer-driven we are as a society. Growing up in another country, she was unaccustomed to the sheer volume of brand messaging that is imparted into our lives on a daily basis. This got me thinking about how much brands affect us and our decisions every day, consciously or not.
I didn’t have to think about it too hard during a recent trip to Orlando, FL. Brand messages compete for attention the moment you step off the plane. Billboards touting Disney parks, Universal exhibits (the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter is pretty amazing if you get the chance to visit), Sea World, Busch Gardens, etc. line the highways to entice you as you drive to your destination.
Our first night in town, friends and I headed over to Universal’s CityWalk to grab dinner. After surveying our options, we migrated over to Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville, thinking it would be quick and familiar. Initially, I wanted to head off the beaten path to another Orlando restaurant that might not be overwhelmed with tourists, but was shot down as my friends weren’t up for venturing too far from our hotel. We put our name in and were able to move to the top of the list because we were staying at a Universal property. Even then, there was a half hour wait. At 6:30 p.m. On a Wednesday.
While grabbing one of the Adirondack chairs outside the restaurant to sit and wait, we glanced over at the Latin Quarter restaurant next door. There didn’t appear to be a wait there. I was up for the dining adventure, but one of my friends said that if it wasn’t crowded, then, in her mind, the food must not be that good. If the food was better, there’d be a line. This got us talking about why then there was a line at Margaritaville. Is the food that spectacular? It’s not. Is the service five-star? Again, no. What it boiled down to was that people were waiting to eat there because of the name, for the cache of saying they ate at Margaritaville and spend their time waiting at the onsite store buying Margaritaville merchandise. What Jimmy Buffett did was bring the experience of his popular song to life for all. If you build it, apparently the Parrotheads will come. I almost had my friends convinced to check out the Latin Quarter when our buzzer buzzed.
Even as a marketer, I’ll admit that I wasn’t able to get away from finding a familiar brand appealing. After an ok meal with subpar service (thanks Dana!), I was left to wonder if we missed out on a fabulous dinner at a restaurant whose only fault was it wasn’t named after a popular song, or anything else we, as consumers, had ingrained in our subconscious. I guess I’ll never know. At least not until my next trip to Orlando.