Wednesday, September 22, 2010


Of all the bad consumer experiences I can think of, being served bad sushi is easily the worst I can recall. Bad sushi is something you can smell coming. If not that, I have also smelled the bleach that was used to clean the stains out of the plastic dishes before they got to my table. That too seems to qualify as bad sushi. I could go on, but the point is the term “bad sushi” resonates with most of us as a strong negative.

If you’ve hung around me very long, you are familiar with my constant reference to developing and using remarkable triggers in your sales message. Remarkable triggers are words or graphics in your sales message that illicit an immediate and positive response from your target consumer. They occur to consumers as a breakthrough in your category.

Located within a ten-block radius of my office are no less than fifteen sushi restaurants. There are three in particular that are nestled within one fairly small block.  One of them is named En Sushi. I ate there about six years ago only to discover something moving in my salad. I never got to the sushi that night. The second is named California Roll Factory Sushi. I have eaten there and can honestly say it wasn’t bad. The third is new, and I heard about it as soon as it opened when one of my sons insisted we try it out. This one is named BAD Sushi. No kidding. Check it out for yourself.

What do you think? Good idea or bad idea? I say it depends on one thing. A close look at the sign and you can see that BAD is an acronym for “Best And Delicious”. Let’s take a look at it from a marketing perspective.

Clearly the name is remarkable in that it has enough character to be considered a breakthrough in the category. The question remains, is it so remarkable that it won’t wear well? By wear well, I mean will it hold up over time without becoming trite. This occurs when the first impression is considered “cute”, or “funny” or “outrageous”, but on an ongoing basis it becomes irritating and falls out of favor with consumers.  In this case I think “Bad Sushi” may wear well over time. It serves as a strong identifier and is very memorable. There is, however, one more hurdle for such remarkability.

There is one issue the owner needs to be very aware of. Of all retail businesses, customers of restaurants are among the least forgiving. One bad experience and it will likely be a very long time or never before a consumer will return. Beyond that, consumers seem to pride themselves in spreading the negative word. The name BAD Sushi goes beyond an identifier and becomes somewhat of a challenge. “Try me and I will prove to you I am not bad,” is perhaps what it is communicating. Over time, I have learned that all consumers have the same operating state of mind, “what’s wrong here”, meaning they are ready for this kind of a challenge.

As it turns out, my son Eric and I were up for the challenge. We went to BAD Sushi for lunch last week and were clearly there to see how good or bad it was. We could easily have gone to any of the other fourteen or so sushi restaurants in the area but we responded to the subliminal challenge. We ate a lot of sushi and it was all great and some of it was extraordinary. As far as we are concerned, we find it easy and kind of fun to recommend BAD Sushi to friends. I am also very clear that we were in a critical state of mind when we were there, and if the sushi had been average we would have “tagged” it as bad sushi, living up to its name.

The learning here is that it pays to characterize your business in a remarkable way as long as you can support whatever it infers. This is a strategy I have been marketing with for my entire career. How do you feel about bad sushi?


Keith Chambers
Keynote Marketing Speaker
Creative Marketing Consultant
(310) 473-0010

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