Dishing dirt

Posted by on Sep 8, 2009 in Naming, Positioning

Somewhere on a shady neighborhood street in the East Village you’ll find a vegetarian restaurant called Dirt Candy.

I haven’t tried the food; the only thing I’ve sampled is owner Amanda Cohen’s marketing but that’s tasty enough (even when it isn’t always sweet)—for a couple of reasons.

First, it reminded me quickly again how the rules of marketing communication have changed since the advent of the Internet, and specifically, the blog. In this connection it’s hard not to talk about the name “Dirt Candy” first. It’s a glaring post-modern, or post-something contradiction of any rational approach to naming. “Dirt” in the name of a place that serves food? It’s just not done. Even when you have to get attention. “I’m firmly convinced,” she writes, “that if I’d taken a hint from most restaurants and named my place Fork, or Green Table, or E9 it wouldn’t be getting nearly as much press as naming it Dirt Candy.” Hard to argue with. And as we all know, a vegetable is just a colorful, jewel-like creation born from the mixture of dirt, water, and sunshine. Obviously dirt candy.
But did she think about the visceral dimension of branding? I’m sure she did, and went full speed ahead anyway. It’s the same sensibility that produces kimchi doughnuts.

Muse as you will on this oddest of odd names. What I really like about Cohen and Dirt Candy is the keen sense of positioning. Positioning that is expressed in the characteristic matter-of-fact, sometimes acerbic, sometimes in-your-face, and at its best no-BS mode of the day—but still positioning, the classic art form that will always be necessary.
Here’s Cohen’s message: “I don’t care about your health. And I don’t care about your politics either. But I do care about cooking vegetables.”

Her challenge was to carve a distinctive niche in the no meat/vegetables-only universe; the underlying inspiration, she tells us, was that the best vegetable dishes she ever had were in traditional restaurants. She decided to take that slice from the meat-eating world and expand it into a full-blown vegetable-only venture. On the flip side, she seems to hate what vegetarians have done with their raw material, not to mention the holier-than-thou attitude with which they’ve ruined the flavor.

Bon appétit.