Thursday, March 11, 2010

Assignment: Response #1

This assignment combines a response to your reading and independent "field research." Before you write, you will need to complete two other steps:

1. Finish reading Eric Schlosser's "Your Trusted Friends," focusing on Schlosser's remarks on marketing and "brand essence" in the fast food industry. Take notes as you read: What is a "brand"? How do the companies Schlosser discusses construct or maintain a "brand image"? Pay attention to the use of advertising, but also to the development of characters, fantasy worlds, and stories or narratives that figure in the branding of these companies, their use of "interactive" elements like clubs or online games, and their use of attractive "synergistic" materials like promotional toys. Who is the primary audience for this brand, and what strategies does the company use to capture the interest of that audience?

2. Visit a McDonald's or Burger King. Go by yourself or with a classmate, so that you won't be distracted from your task, and stay for at least one full hour. Observe the restaurant as closely as you can. Don't involve yourself: maintain an ironic distance. You are here to do research, just like an anthropologist might research an unknown, mysterious culture. Take notes on what you see and hear: How is the restaurant arranged (the placement of the furniture, the counter, the work stations visible behind the counter, etc.) and why is it arranged that way? How is the restaurant decorated, and why is it decorated that way? Note all of the places where you see the restaurant brand being invoked: list them all in your notes, without missing anything. What are the different kinds of branding or promotional materials you see? Describe them. Do they address the same audience or different audiences? Where are they placed, and why? Are there any fantasy elements present in the restaurant, either physically (in the design of the restaurant) or in the form of promotional materials? Describe them. What "brand image" is this company trying to construct?
          Now pay attention to the customers. How are they interacting with their environment? Is anyone reading the promotional materials or otherwise engaging with the brand elements of the restaurant? Are there any children present? Are they interacting with the brand elements of the restaurant? Describe what they are doing. How is this environment affecting you? Are you nervous, hungry, excited, grossed out? How do you feel about the brand you are encountering? Does it appeal to you? In what specific ways? Before you leave, pick up copies of any brand-related or promotional materials that you can: coupons, pamphlets, brochures, placemats, etc. Visit the website of the chain you've chosen and look for clues about the companies "brand image" and their marketing strategies there.

Now, using your reading notes and your field research, write a 300-600 word response (1-2 pages typed and double-spaced) in which you take an idea from Schlosser, explain that idea, and show the reader how that idea helps you to understand what you discovered in your field research.

This response is going to be your first post to your blog for this course. Anyone with internet access will be able to read it. As I mentioned on the syllabus, we'll be doing some collaboration with other LaGuardia classes this semester, so you can be sure that other LaGuardia students and professors will read your blog this semester!

Because you are writing to people from outside this class, you'll need to think about audience when you write -- in other words, you'll have to think about how to write for someone you don't know, who isn't in your class and hasn't read what you've read. For example, if you refer to "the essay we read in class" or "the reading" without mentioning the author or title, your readers won't have any way of knowing what essay you're talking about. If you refer to an idea from your reading without thoroughly explaining that idea using paraphrase and/or quotation, your readers won't have any way of knowing what you mean. As you write and revise your work, keep your audience in mind. In addition, you'll want to "polish" and correct your response: this is going to be a public document with your name on it, so you'll want to put your best foot forward.

Bring an electronic copy of this response to class on Monday so that you can post it to your blog.

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