May 23, 2010

Whale Fail: How Callous Marketing Busted The Hump

by Freddy J. Nager, Founder of Atomic Tango LLC + No Fan of Captain Ahab

Whale Fail

image by McAuliflower

How do you go from being one of the hottest restaurants in town to being completely out of business in just weeks? Simply follow the example of The Hump, a trendy sushi bar in Santa Monica, CA, that shut down after being busted for selling whale meat.

That’s right: someone there actually said, “Mmm, beautiful, intelligent and endangered species — let’s eat it.”

Two activists covertly filmed the staff of The Hump serving whale sushi. This happened in March 2010, and I’ve since been teaching it as a vivid example of how not to run a business — and why a complete stakeholders analysis is essential before launching any product or campaign.

In a stakeholders analysis, marketers evaluate their customers, competitors and own company. This helps shape strategy and gauge odds of success. Recently a fourth “C” — community — was added to factor in the relevance and influence of the government, labor unions, the news media and special interest groups. It’s the “C” that often gets left out of the equation, and it’s the “C” that factors most prominently in this case. Let’s dive in, shall we?

Customers: I’ve written several posts about customer worship in which I’ve noted that, yes, it’s essential to know your customers’ needs, but, no, you can’t afford to dismiss the following facts:

  • customers don’t always know what they want
  • customers disagree with each other
  • customers are not always right
  • certain customers can actually be bad for business.

The Hump perfectly met the needs of certain customers — the restaurant wouldn’t have offered whale sushi unless they had customers willing to pay hundreds of dollars for it. (Note: the activists who exposed The Hump weren’t customers — they were vegans on the prowl.)

Competitors: One principle of successful marketing is to be highly differentiated from your competition. And in this case, serving cetacean sushi certainly distanced The Hump from the thousands of other restaurants in the L.A. area (or so we whale lovers hope). Mission accomplished!

Company: Before doing anything, a company should know if it has the means and willpower to do so. Did The Hump have access to whale meat? Check. Were The Hump’s staff willing to serve it? Check. Was the chef willing and able to prepare it? Check. Indeed, in an earlier review, the L.A. Times wrote, “The chefs at The Hump are deadly serious about their sushi.” No kidding. So all systems go!

Community: And here’s where the happy whalers of The Hump met their Moby Dick. First of all, the restaurant was not located in some red state outpost where the residents regularly flip their fingers at environmentalists. This was Santa Monica — aka “Soviet Monica” — an extremely liberal city that’s home to the environmental group Heal the Bay and an office of the Natural Resources Defense Council. People here love whales — but not for dinner. Beyond residents, it was a collaborative effort between activists, federal agents and news-hungry reporters that served The Hump up on a plate.

In sum, The Hump adequately met the needs of customers, differentiated themselves from competitors, and leveraged the skills and motivation of company stakeholders. But after 12 years of business, they decided to neglect the interests and power of their community, and wound up sinking themselves.

Case — and doors — closed.

A too-late mea culpa from The Hump's website.

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Freddy is the Founder & Creative Strategist of Atomic Tango. He also teaches at the University of Southern California (go Trojans!), shoots pool somewhat adequately, and herds cats. Freddy received his BA from Harvard and his MBA from USC.

2 Responses

  1. I have a feeling that greed was festering in the owners soul. They took a huge risk selling whale sushi and chances are they knew they were going to get caught. The question is just how much money did they make before getting busted?

  2. Dear Atomic Tango. I love your Marketing Blog. I enclose for interest another Oops from Florida, USA. This is support information for discussion perhaps in case study material used by your students! The Dolphin Hunting saga off Japan is another dimension of this debate also!
    Regards Inga
    ingamolzen@gmail.com

    Florida restaurant puts lion meat on the menu
    30/07/2008 14:18:52
    misc/Lion_meat_florida_restaurant

    Florida restaurant with Lion meat on the menu. Couretsy of Campaign Against Canned Hunting.
    A restaurant in Tampa, Florida, has been offering lion meat from South Africa to its customers. It is thought that the lion originated from a ‘lion farm’ in South Africa. Is this an industry which Florida restaurant goers would wish to support?

    There is little doubt that the patrons of the restaurant will have little idea that by ordering lion meat they are supporting one of the most vicious and destructive industries in the world. Their money will go back along the commercial food chain until it reaches the canned lion breeder in South Africa, enriching him and encouraging his grisly trade. South Africa is the world capital of canned lion breeding and hunting; captive predators, often wild caught, are reared under cruel conditions and then shot for sport, often with bow and arrow. Packs of dogs are sometimes used to force tame, hand reared lions up trees so that bow hunters can have fun shooting arrows into their helpless victim.

    Treating lions as livestock like this is cruel. Unlike cattle and sheep, which are mostly raised on the open range and have some natural contentment before they are penned, fattened and slaughtered, lions are predators and often bred in enclosures.

    Predators don’t usually eat predators
    It is not natural, and perhaps even unhealthy, to eat the flesh of predators. There must be good reason why predators do not eat other predators. Lions do not eat other lions even if they fight and kill each other. There are very few reported incidences, if any, of big cats eating each other. There seems little research into why this is the
    Response from Jimmy Stewart, chef/owner Spoto’s Steak Joint II, Dunedin, Florida.
    Lion meat not meant to offend
    I had no idea that serving lion would offend so many people. When it was offered to me by one of my suppliers, I was curious myself about how lion would compare to other animals I have prepared for consumption. There was a limited amount available and, as it was the first time I had served it, I posted it on our board so our customers would be aware that they could try it here at Spoto’s. We never intended to make it a regular selection on our menu, and all our customers who tried it seemed to be pleased with their selection.

    For those who question my judgment for serving lion, I can only reply that I had confirmed that it was handled under government standards, was safe to eat, and that it was not killed illegally. I believed that any who did not want to dine on lion would simply not do so.

    In fact, while we were serving lion, we had no complaints whatsoever, so we were surprised to read the letters of those who had read the article about our special offering in your newspaper.

    We understand their feeling and hope that, likewise, they will understand our motivation for serving this meat that was already processed and available. We played no part in the killing or processing of the lion and only purchased it after it had been offered in the commercial marketplace.

    Therefore, we apologize to any who were offended by our serving lion to our customers and ask them to respect the desire of those who ordered it to do so in our society.

    We recognize that there are vegans, vegetarians, non-pork and non-beef eaters and a wide variety of other individuals who object to the eating of various types of animals. Yet, they do respect the right of others to do so, even if it should conflict with their principles. Be assured that at no time did we intend to offend anyone and that we will be more mindful in the future.

    case, but there is obviously some innate sense within big cats that they should not eat each other. Yet humans do often eat other species of predator; snakes, crocodiles, many species of fish and even dogs. Perhaps it is just our western pre-conceptions of what is right to eat and what is not, but that is irrelevant. What is relevant is the way that this lion was brought to the table, how it was kept in a farm and how it was killed.

    Information provided by:

    Chris Mercer
    Campaign Against Canned Hunting
    South Africa
    http://www.cannedlion.co.za/

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