Saturday, July 01, 2006

The Folly of the Cheese Pusher

I don't know about you but for me, last night was a night abuzz with energy. As I was driving to my favorite theater, Pacific Culver Stadium 12 in Culver City, I started to feel that particular jumpy sensation, the one that overtakes you right before you get onto a new roller coaster. It may have been the radio: NPR's fund drive was coming to a climatic end and the voice from the radio kept frenetically counting down time while counting up cash figures. Or it may have been the statistically impossible series of green lights which kept the car in perpetual motion from home to Culver City; a 6 mile drive that would only happen on "24".

Whatever it was, there was no denying that this bright summer evening was popping. I paused for a moment in front of the theater and stood near a fountain in the courtyard. As I watched a barefoot little girl playing with the water, the classic "busy park" movie scene unfolded in front of me: Beautiful people casually strolled between myself and the girl. A woman bent down in front of a stroller to make silly faces. Some teenagers, all smiles and hormones, were acting cool/goofy behind the fountain. Everything was popping! It was as if God had retouched Culver City with Impressionist brushstokes.

A few minutes later, with a smile on my face and my eyes buzzing from the visual noise of the concession stand, I order my nachos.

[Here is where the story turns, if you've enjoyed the description of the evening so far and would like to keep this post to just that. Let me leave you with this:

"...I order my nachos. On this night, even theater nachos are warm, terrific and hint at the hospitality of a foreign people. Nachos in hand and a smile on my face, I walk through the theater door, leaving behind bright Culver City and entering an equally surreal world where heroes fly and parks are always busy."
For the rest of you, the next part is the real reason for this post.]

"I'd like some nachos, a hot dog and a medium drink" I say to the girl behind the concession stand.

"Do you want to order extra cheese with your nachos?" she asks; her heart not really into it.

"Extra cheese?" I say. I'm perplexed and perhaps emphasizing the last syllable a little too much.

"Yes, would you like to order extra cheese with your nachos?" she says with a tone suggesting that perhaps I didn't know that combining the words "extra" and "cheese" creates a new concept.

"Well, how much cheese do I normally get?" I ernestly inquire.

"One side." she says, gesturing to the compartmentalized plastic nacho tray she grabbed from behind her.

I purse my lips to the side. Time passes. My internal monologue goes something like this:
"Wait a second, are they shorting me on cheese? Why would I need 'extra cheese' if they should be giving me enough cheese?"

"Wait, didn't I run out of cheese last time?"

"If I say no, is she going to give me less cheese as punishment then hand me my nachos with a smug 'I tried to tell you' look."

"Umm, I don't know. Is that guy over there getting extra cheese?"

I tell her: "No thanks." I purchase my original order and make my way to the show. I'm waiting for the movie to start and eating my nachos when I find myself telling my date to go easy on the cheese, we may not have enough. She looks at me weird.

This is a classic marketing maneuver turned into a blunder. Usually marketers know they can't sell you something if you don't know you need it. "Have you thought about life insurance?" What went horribly wrong in this case is that instead of suggesting something I need, I was given the suggestion of not having enough. Cruise ship captains don't ask, "Do you want extra lifeboats on this trip?"

As per usual, I'm making a big deal out of nothing. However, take this lesson to heart. When hawking cheese, be it the gooey goodness of nacho cheese or the narcissistic gruyere tanning above your french onion soup, always make sure you're not devaluing the cheese you've already sold me. Feel free to replace the cheeses in the previous sentence with anything else you'd like.

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