Lessons from dessert on establishing brand power.

By Amber Hudson and Luke Sklar

So there I was, enjoying a fabulous dinner at a well-known Toronto restaurant owned by celebrity chef Mark McEwan.  For those unfamiliar with Mark, he owns several high end Toronto restaurants, has starred in his own TV show, is a published cookbook author and owns a gourmet grocery store. He’s got a serious rep as all things gourmet.

Back to the dinner.  Or the end of it.  We order the Banana Bread Pudding with Peanut Butter Ice Cream, with 4 spoons please.  It arrives and we dig in, starting with the ice cream.   We each take a few more bites.  In my head I’m going huh, this is interesting.  Chef McEwan must have taken some creative license and put his own spin on peanut butter ice cream… because it doesn’t taste at all like peanut butter.  Maybe if I take a few more bites I’ll get what he’s trying to do.   No one says a word.  Finally I do.  Does this taste like peanut butter ice cream to you?  Well, it didn’t because it was….. MOCHA!  So here’s the thing, the 4 of us sat there eating the ice cream trying to convince ourselves that it’s peanut butter because it’s from Mark McEwan’s restaurant and he knows more than we do and how dare we criticize his ice cream!

That my friends, is a prime example of a dominatrix brand.  Mark McEwan has aggressively established himself as a leader in the gourmet food market, with a clear POV on what’s good and what’s not.  To the point that we trusted him more than we trusted ourselves.

Serious.  Brand.  Power.

Starbucks is also a dominatrix brand, forcing us to ask for a “tall” when all we want is a “small.”  So are BMW, Apple (yeah, enough already) and dare I say Costco.  Because any company that makes me pay an annual fee for the privilege of shopping their stores and paying only cash has got some serious power.

The lesson:  it’s fine to be a dominatrix brand, exerting your strong point of view.  But you’ve got to do it right.  We forgave Mark for his mistake (placing the blame solely on his shoulders, even though he wasn’t in the restaurant that night) and the very capable waiter remedied things in a snap with ice cream that indeed tasted like peanut butter.  But if he keeps it up, I’ll be taking my ice cream-loving dollars to Baskin Robins, thankyouverymuch.