Word of Mouth at its Best!

Of all the things Philly is known for, we’re kind of a big deal when it comes to the restaurant industry. Fine dining, pastries, and bar food aside, our claim to fame is the cheese steak. Depending on whom you ask any number of places could be the best in city. However, 3 names are most consistent: Pat’s, Geno’s and Jim’s. Philly is a big city and in reality, every section has its own comparable and reputable steak shops. So how is it possible that these 3 shops, all located in the same small region have the most notoriety? Word of mouth!

The popularity of these places is based on a fallacy (Ad Populum/Bandwagon Fallacy). I’ll be pointing out different types of ad related fallacies as time goes on. This is one of my personal favorites though. If enough people say something, it must be true… right? A good advertiser knows better, but this is one of the tricks of our trade. I’ve heard enough sound bites and enough name-dropping to know when something is going on. Media personalities are awarded cool points for mentioning one of those 3 places. There are some runner-ups too including Tony Luke’s and Chickies and Pete’s.

When people come here to visit, they want to be able to give a sound byte of their own when they go back home and tell their friends. “The line went out the door and around the corner. I just knew it was going to be awesome! This many people wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t.” A comment like this comes from a person who has never even had a cheese steak before. Pat’s, Geno’s and Jim’s each have powerful brand equity, cult-like followings, they have heretics (naysayers like me), creation stories, icons, and they even have gatekeepers. All elements for branding success! People have a need to believe.

The back story in the video implies that Pat’s and Geno’s are the best because they were first. Being first and being best are 2 great ways to stand out in advertising, but when they’re used together they run the risk of becoming another fallacy. In ad lingo, being first or best means being the market leader and the top competitor (2 separate entities). If a brand is first and best, does it have any competitors? It’s possible to be both, but neither justifies the other. That’s like saying I’m the best customer because I’m first in line. Mistaking cause for effect leads to confusion. Anyone remember America Online? It was the first to do quite a few things right? Well have a look at them now.

Not that I could, but I’m not trying to take anything away from Philly’s most popular steak shops. I just wanted to shed some light on the power of word of mouth. This is a big city, and while South Philly is one of the smallest parts it’s the biggest gatekeeper of these fallacies. There are steak shops just as good, if not better, but you’ll never hear about them if you don’t live nearby. Word of mouth cannot be undone. I think it’s just a reflection of Philly’s overall xenophobia but on a smaller scale. Could it be that people who live outside of South Philly have no authority on good steaks? Pat’s owner Frank Oliveri said it himself in the video. He doesn’t even care what people think about Geno’s or anything they’re doing across the street. Suppose Joey Vento of Geno’s feels the same way. They don’t consider any other brand of steak relevant. What does this say about advertising? Luckily for Oliveri and Vento, they’re in the food business and they operate locally. Many leading brands have crumbled under that same line of thought. Usually, the media is the gatekeeper, but word of mouth bestows that power unto the consumer. South Philly has nothing to prove, am I right?

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