Selling Out

I like Extra Life Radio, and listen to it as often as I can. Occassionally something comes up in the discussion that gets me thinking, and this week's episode did just that. The host, Scott Johnson, mentioned that one of the things that really irritates him is when he hears folks use the saying "oh, they totally sold out". He mentioned this in response to criticism of the recent Mt. Dew ads featuring a World of Warcraft tie in.

That got me thinking about the phrase. Scott's beef was that it didn't make sense. After all, Blizzard (Activision) is in the gaming industry not to create some love-in for RPG fans, but to make money. If working with Mt. Dew leads to more money, then that's good business.

Is it really though? I do agree that this term "Selling out" gets thrown around rather flippantly, but sometimes, it is spot on. Branding is incredibly important to some companies. Great care must be taken not to dilute that brand or associate the brand with things that do not synergize with the brand. For instance, you probably won't ever see a Rolex tie-in with McDonald's. McDonald's is all about convenience and being inexpensive, while Rolex is about luxury and prestige. If such a combination were to occur, it could be accurately described as "selling out the brand".

I do agree with Scott Johnson that the pairing of WoW with Mt. Dew does not diminish either brand, and thus the "selling out" comment is not relevant. On the other hand, I do believe it is important to listen to your consumer base, and to be cautious about how, where, and when your brand image is used.

When Does a Quarter Cost More than 25¢

I had an interesting experience at lunch yesterday. My coworkers and I often go out for lunch, and often to the same places. It was on one of these trips that I realized a quarter can be worth a lot more than 25¢ given the right circumstances. There were seven of us heading to the restaurant, so we took two cars. After being seated, we ordered drinks: five waters, a coke, and a diet coke. The waitress (we'll call her "Kay"), returned with the drinks and a scowl on her face. She put all seven drinks at the corner of the table, then unceremoniously dropped seven straws in the center of the table. Not a big deal, but usually a waiter/waitress will pass around drinks and straws individually rather than asking the guest to do it. We placed our food orders and waited for it to arrive...

...and waited and waited and waited some more. It was more than 30 minutes before our food arrived. That's killer on a workday lunch. In the meantime, the drinks at the table were getting low and the waitress was not interested in offering refills. In fact, in the entire time that we waited for food, we never saw our Kay.

Once we were all finished and our checks arrived, six people paid by credit card and I paid with cash. My bill was for $7.25 and I put a $10 bill on the table. Kay asked me if I wanted change, and I said yes. She said, "Are you sure you want change?" Ummm, YES! Firstly, service was bad already, and a $2.75 tip on a $7.25 meal would be a nearly 38% tip! This should have been my first clue that Kay wasn't a math wizard.

Kay returned with the receipts for all of the credit cards and pens...and no change for me. I gave her the benefit of the doubt and assumed she just needed to go back for it. Everyone at the table knew I needed change, so they waited....and waited and waited and waited. When it was clear that Kay wasn't going to give me my change, one of my coworkers called her over and I again asked for my change. With a heaving sigh Kay got her change purse out of her pocket and produced two ones and a quarter for me. Hmmm, not the right change for a $7.25 bill. Wanting the situation to be done and to just leave, I left the quarter on the table. I figured the 50¢ she had shorted me with the quarter was still better than a 10% tip, and definitely more than she deserved. We all returned to our cars to leave.

As we were buckling in, we see Kay come tearing out of the restaurant to the other car. We can't hear her, but we see she has a receipt and is talking emphatically with my coworkers in the other car. We assume someone forgot to sign their receipt and leave. When we get back to the office, one of the guys in the other car drops by my office and puts a quarter on my desk. He said Kay ran out to the car to let them know that we "forgot our quarter". The guys tried to explain to her that this was an adequate tip since she had already shorted me, but it wasn't getting through. Apparently she stomped off in a huff.

That was crossing a line for me. I can deal with bad service (I've lived in Maryland, home state of bad service at restaurants). Running out of the restaurant, harassing the wrong person, and being insolent due to your own ignorance is too much. I called the restaurant and let the manager know that, while we enjoyed their food, I needed an assurance that we would never deal with Kay again if we chose to return. The manager was profusely apologetic and assured me that Kay would not bother us again in his restaurant.

So here we have a case of a quarter being worth more than 25¢, it was worth Kay's job. I'm sure Kay probably hasn't learned any kind of lesson here. She's probably hating my guts for being a meany. Still, I do hope that at some point she is able to learn from this experience to know that you really have to pick your battles. When making that decision, make sure you've used good math.

Jade Mason