Friday, May 20, 2005

Seth goes to White Castle

As I study more and more about advertising, I realize just how important a product's brand image is to its success in the marketplace. You know what I'm talking about. Volvo=safety. Subway=healthy. Target=cheap chic. Millions of dollars worth of research go into every one of these corporate cultures. Years are spent building and maintaining these important identities. After all, Macs didn't just become cool overnight, did they? All successful companies know exactly what type of people they want to attract and a simple stroll through their product showroom, restaurant, or retail store will fast clue you in to who they are.

Then there is White Castle.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, today I dined at one of the many restaurants in the infamous White Castle fast food chain. I'd heard so much about the ghetto-ness of this burger joint that I could hardly contain myself upon hearing there was one right by my assigned work area today. I was so excited. For the record White Castle completely lives up to its reputation. My food was greasy, my burger was cheap, and my clerk was brown. Come to think of it--everyone there was brown (even me).

That said, let's talk a little bit about White Castle's brand image. How exactly do you sell "ghetto?" Do you add graffiti to your store's look? (see McDonald's.) Do you feature five racial minorities per every white male in your TV commercials? (see again McDonald's.) Seriously, I would have sworn before today that White Castle sprung up somewhere in East Harlem during the early 1980's. If not that, it had to have arrived from some 50's Southern-born tradition, right?


White Castle was founded in Wichita, Kansas in 1921 and is credited as the world's first fast food restaurant. After looking past all the grimy tables and cheesy product names there, you'll notice a very nostalgic motif going on in the store's decor. Yes, folks, despite the ghetto feel that even the mere words "White Castle" conjure up, the company still goes for the classic, black-and-white, Caucasian Americana look. To top things off, the store logo is done in stained glass. What the heck? I have never before seen a store that so visibly missed the mark. Not since the Provo hospital food court's unlikely capturing of the local indie/hipster market have I seen something so ironic.

Then again, maybe this apparent incongruity is actually the reason White Castle is alive and well nine decades later. Just what is it about those onion-steamed burgers that attracts so many fans? The world may never know, but one thing is certain. You can bet this irony-seeking, indie/hipster wannabe is going to be chowing down on White Castle fries all week long.

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