Marketing Philosophy

Constructing Identity Through Social Media Engagement

Nourish Your Reader's Identity - Get a New Customer

Cultural studies’ criticism of social media – and all media forms – is based on the assumption that what we read, watch and listen to has a profound influence on our understanding of the world and ourselves as individuals. Of particular importance for marketers – in the restaurant sector or otherwise – is the fact that Britain is a capitalist society in which spending money and consuming are among the more significant ways we unconsciously seek to develop our own identities.

Consequently, the role of the restaurant marketer is clear – to provide one’s audience with the content through which individuals can identify, affirm and evolve their identities and, eventually, book a table.

Coffee Lovers adore Kipferl

As straightforward as the marketer’s brief has become, using social media to create meaningful, identity-influencing engagement is far less simple.

A mainstream view maintained by cultural theorists is that meaning is created in the text, or in our case, the social media content. On face value this is an extremely reasonable assumption, given that any decent content will have a message and, provided it is written in a language understood by the reader, this message would likely be understood.

This textualist approach says that we are socialised through the media and are therefore passive – but conscious – victims to its message.

Consuming Identity Changing Media

To put this in perspective, if a formidable food critic like Jay Rayner were to tweet a positive review for a new restaurant, a texualist would argue that any conscious engagement with this content would result in the reader viewing the restaurant in question as an attractive place to dine. This reader may even book a table and begin a word-of-mouth campaign that continues Rayner’s praise.

While I do not have the readership figures, it is clear that someone like Rayner wields a lot of power over his audience and that when he – or another restaurant critics – speaks (or tweets), a portion of readers will listen and oblige in one form or another. If this were not at least partially true, traditional restaurant PR would have very little to offer.

And yet, it is clear that many of us can read Rayner’s tweets and have no problem reading them critically – either disagreeing (even if we have no business doing so!) or simply by resisting a message’s logical conclusion of visiting the restaurant for a meal. Therefore, it is not wholly plausible that we are passive, non-critical victims to any media message with which we engage.

Evolving Identities

The other side of cultural theory suggests that content is not where meaning is created – instead, it is in the recipient of that content – the reader.

This ethnographic approach argues that the words that combine to make one of Rayner’s tweets would offer their reader little – if any – identity-influencing meaning. Instead, it is the reader who superimposes a meaning onto the text, or social media content.

Semiotics and Marketing

Based on this theory, the reader produces meaning with the text by being the kind of person who pursues interest in restaurant reviews on Twitter. The reader may even identify with Rayner’s no-nonsense, quirky approach to restaurant criticism, or even aspire to become like the man himself.

Perhaps controversially, the ethnographic approach would argue that the reader does not have to ever do anything but intend to engage with Rayner’s criticism for impactful meaning to be produced. That’s right, the reason the tweets cannot produce meaning is because either the reader never actually reads Rayner’s social media content and/or because any reading is done in such a disinterested fashion that the content’s meaning cannot be properly absorbed.

The conclusion of this general theory is that merely by identifying as the kind of person who likes and listens to Jay Rayner allows one to project an idealised identity as a foodie and savant of the London restaurant scene.

How to construct an "Outdoors-y" identity. Show the world you getting back to Nature with your iPhone.

How to construct an "Outdoors-y" identity. Show the world you getting back to Nature with your iPhone.

This is a compelling theory that definitely helps to explain how we use social media content to consolidate our own identities, and yet, it has a serious flaw – this approach completely fails to account for our subconscious minds or deep-seated ideological configurations that the media – including a Rayner tweet – can tap into to impact the identity of consumers.

To understand properly how to create quality social media marketing content that helps one’s audience establish and develop individual identities, we require a prism that accepts that the text does transmit meaning to its reader, though perhaps not always consciously and not always the intended message. Equally, we need to account for what is it about content that allows us to make a bold statement about our identity without engaging with it critically or even at all.

Idealised identities on social media

The theory that we will use to make sense of this – which informs much of the work we do at Epicure Digital Marketing – is called semiotics. Through semiotics, we will see how social media marketing makes use of a range of cultural objects that act as words in a greater language. Not only do we speak this language fluently, we can make a great deal of sense from it without even thinking.

Epicure Digital Marketing’s analysis of semiotics, identity and social media marketing… Coming soon!

A Delicious American Myth

Epicure Founder Chris O'Leary Deconstructs Authentic American BBQ

A recent visit to the fabulous and delicious Shotgun – an American BBQ restaurant in London’s Carnaby area– taught me an important lesson about what it is to be American:

There is American and then there is mythically American.

BBQ Sauces at Shotgun London

I – Chris O’Leary – am American. To break this down linguistically, there is the concept, or identity of being American (the signified), then there is me (the signifier) who exists as a biological entity. When the American identity and I interact – which we do rather well given that I am American born, have an American accent, have lived in America for most of my life; etc. – the sign for Chris O’Leary as American is born.

What is crucial to the understanding of the sign Chris O’Leary as American is that it is full of meaning and that it is not a message to be communicated to and digested by a particular audience. When I say full of meaning, I am referring to the fact that my status as an American is not transient, thin or capricious, but the consequence of a wide and complicated history that has affected my own existence. As a result, my being is decorated with a range of codes and signs that implicitly signify my American-ness. And yet, these codes and signs do not seek out an audience to be recognised as an American since this national status, and all its rich meaning, persists with or without somebody naming it American.

Broccoli and Cheddar Soup at Shotgun

Broccoli and Cheddar Soup at Shotgun

This is what I expected upon arriving at Shotgun – two full, rich and complete signs of American-ness staring at each other, myself and Shotgun. This is not at all what happened. In the place of the effusive sign for American-ness I encountered a pleasantly dim mahogany interior, a menu that exuded super-quality meat dishes put together with an attentive, skillful and imaginative hand and a drinks list with plenty of nice wines – some American – and cocktails that jumped off the menu as a range of delectable elixirs.

Glass of beer at Shotgun London

At first glance Shotgun was the opposite of what I expected, and yet, myth is not the opposite of a meaningful sign – myth is a sign that has been emptied of its meaning and history and replaced with something else entirely, always a message intended for a specific audience. The relationship between a sign and a myth is far more complicated and interesting, as the latter is the shell of the former filled with an essence that forever changes its integrity and purpose.

As the ambiance, food and drink at Shotgun do not come together to present a meaningful sign of American-ness, for it to be considered American, it must rely on its customers naming it so. This is the way myth works – it is not a statement of fact; i.e. the indicative – it is a supplication; i.e. the imperative. It is not Shotgun serves American BBQ; it is Hey! Over Here! Label everything you see at Shotgun ‘authentic American BBQ’!

Shotgun London

As Shotgun’s status as American is so utterly reliant on its customers naming it so, it has created a sophisticated narrative that unequivocally proclaims the fact that it serves Authentic American BBQ. This story – that includes frequently naming its cuisine ‘Southern American BBQ’ or ‘Authentic American BBQ’, the fascinating and esoteric origin of its namesake, the Mississippi heritage of its executive chef and its ‘New Orleans-style’ bar – infiltrates and informs all aspects of its marketing and branding so that anyone who encounters Shotgun is requested to name it American despite it clearly not being a full, rich and complete sign of American-ness.

As the authentic American BBQ proposed by Shotgun is myth, its undoubted quality notwithstanding, it has been emptied of the rich history, determinations and contingencies that have organically produced the celebrated American BBQ culinary genre and its associated culture. At Shotgun, authentic BBQ has been reduced to a menu of exciting dishes and drinks that is, at best, inspired by American BBQ, whose definition morphs and evolves not according to the cannon of American BBQ but to the whims of Shotgun’s chefs.


Baby Back Ribs for 2 at Shotgun

Baby Back Ribs for 2 at Shotgun

The menu – which includes items like Point-End Brisket and Jacobs Ladder – exudes a niche expertise and superlative quality that massively transcends what the average American enjoys at a BBQ, which is generally burgers, hot dogs and ribs. Therefore at Shotgun we are not dealing with the everyday American BBQ.

So are we dealing with a precise manifestation of Memphis or Kansas City BBQ? If so, there is no mention anywhere to let us know – which would be essential given the particular way in which each style’s pork ribs, for instance, are prepared and served. And despite being happy to admit that there may just be a place in America where Americans enjoy the Shotgun menu as it is presented here in London, I cannot imagine that the more traditional BBQ options are enjoyed alongside duck or porcini rubbed ox cheek, that both make the occasional appearance, nor could I with a sweet potato fondant or baked potato purée.

Sweet Potato Fondant & BBQ Baked Beans

Sweet Potato Fondant & BBQ Baked Beans

The cocktails at Shotgun are worth a visit in their own right, and yet neither do they promote the ‘Authentic American BBQ’ experience. No Pabst Blue Ribbon… no bourbon offered by the glass (or bottle)… No Bud Lite; i.e. modern redneck. In their place we have truly excellent cocktails made from a range of spirits from cognac to mezcal, but there is little that evokes a dive bar in Texas. Incidentally, New Orleans does have a vibrant and sophisticated cocktail culture not dissimilar to Shotgun’s offering – but are New Orleans-style cocktails regarded as classic beverage to enjoy with ‘Authentic American BBQ? Not really.

Mezcal Extra Cocktail

Mezcal Extra Cocktail

The presence of myth is usually a hallmark of a woefully inadequate product – Shotgun is different because it uses myth to its advantage. Shotgun is operating against the cultural context of the British BBQ, which – despite its more-or-less rigid menu involving burgers and sausages – is a phenomenon that is less about a precise culinary genre and more about celebrating the fleeting moments of warm, beautiful summer in Britain. Ultimately the notion of the ‘British BBQ’ does not give the British a particular good opportunity to come to grips with authentic American (or Australian, for that matter) BBQ. This puts Shotgun in the ideal position to channel the full extent of its creativity and ingenuity to make the definition of ‘BBQ’ whatever it wants it to be, with its savvy London customers making only two requests – the food and drink be exceptional and that they be at least suggestive of the authentic American BBQ that has clearly served as one of the restaurant’s key inspirations.

Pecan Brownie

Pecan Brownie

Shotgun is not a sign of being American – it is an American myth, and a damn tasty one.


Here is what I enjoyed during my meal at Shotgun.

To drink – Mezcal Extra Cocktail x 3

Starter - Broccoli and Cheddar Soup

Main – Baby Back Ribs for 2

Sides – Sweet Potato Fondant & BBQ Baked Beans

Dessert – Pecan Brownie

Total Cost: £75.37 (including service)



The Clear and Simple Truth of Good Copywriting

Copywriting Tips Straight From The Epicure Desk

‘If people cannot write well, they cannot think well…’  - George Orwell

Putting a pen to paper can bring out the worst in us. Sometimes when we write it is almost as if we have woken up in the midst of a fancy tea party for aristocrats where we feel an impulse to sound more intelligent than we are, speak more florally than we normally would or use big words when smaller ones are more appropriate.

Writing can be a space in which we attempt to flex our vocabularies and flaunt our smooth and sophisticated styles whilst throwing everything else – including meaning – to the wind.

The secret to good writing is communicating meaning. Yet for many the myth of good copy writing; i.e. style over substance, is the more appealing, intuitive option.

The Elements of Style with Epicure Digital Marketing

From what we can discern from Orwell’s quote above, writing well requires thinking well. It turns out that thinking well is probably a lot easier than you would have thought.

Thinking well does not mean – necessarily – solving an impossible math equation or offering an illuminating interpretation of a poem or painting. It can merely be stating the obvious; for instance, that you prefer coffee to tea, or that you enjoy beach holidays.

Expressing something simple cogently and clearly is thinking well and it is this basic skill that is your greatest asset in all your writing endeavors, including restaurant copywriting.

Restaurant copywriting shares the same scope as journalism. When writing a news story, the writer is advised to pretend s/he is speaking to her/his friend at the pub – simple, almost colloquial language. For instance: ‘You are never going to believe who I just saw whilst walking past Exeter College, Oxford… Thom Yorke!’ Granted the structure of this is not necessarily appropriate for publication, but the ingredients are all there.

Yesterday Thom Yorke was seen walking by Exeter College, Oxford, reports Chris O’Leary at Epicure Digital Marketing. That’s better. Not the most lyrical line ever written but its meaning is as clear as day.

In this same vein, when you approach copywriting either for your restaurant or a client’s, begin with the most basic, fundamental parts of what makes the restaurant special or worth visiting for a meal.

Imagine, for instance, that you are dealing with a client that specialises in authentic Neapolitan pizza. The message that you must communicate is: This restaurant serves delicious authentic pizza from the Mecca of pizza, Naples.

Let’s consider a relevant headline: Pizza from Napoli. Don’t be fooled – there is nothing wrong or unfashionable about telling your reader exactly what it is you are offering, particularly given that this three word headline would be reinforced by a high-resolution image of a mouth-watering authentic pizza, and hopefully supported by fantastic design and branding.

Where possible, it never hurts to add a bit of flair to one’s copywriting. Just don’t force it. If you would like to add another layer of meaning or intrigue to your headline – without sacrificing its original impactfulness – why not try something like From Napoli, with Love? This example, when added to a marketing framework that unequivocally shows that we are dealing with a pizza restaurant in London, clearly expresses that the pizza is authentically Neapolitan and is made with love. This headline also benefits by being placed within a popular and fashionable British cultural framework; i.e. James Bond and its range of British, sexy and on-trend significations.

Great writing takes style


An example of a really good, but concise and basic headline is on the New York City burger chain Five Napkin Burger’s website. Their homepage leads with MEET THE BURGERS in clear, large font laid on top of a high-resolution image of a big, juicy and delicious burger. The language is simple – three words – and the message even clearer  – this place does a damn good burger.

Let’s consider another NYC restaurant (which shall remain unnamed) that is arguably better than Five Napkin Burger – a stylish wine bar that serves great wine and flatbread pizzas. Instead of just telling us about the quality food and drink they offer, they write: Savor The Sensations. Our extensive wine list includes exquisite bottles from around the globe. Our sommelier has traveled the world collecting only the finest wines… It continues in this style for a good deal longer.

Let’s play spot the difference – one example offers us three words that combine to not only give us pure, unadulterated meaning, but also one heck of a reason to pay them a visit (that is, if you like burgers).

The other example hides from us the truly excellent reasons why we should drop by for wine and flatbreads through nearly 70 meaningless and self-consciously-styled words. This not only gives the reader a nearly meaningless message, it renders its digital marketing impotent.

The clear and simple truth of quality copywriting is that all you need to do is pretend you are telling your friend over a drink at the pub what your restaurant is about and why it is worthwhile.  Do this, and you will be well on your way to the evocative and captivating copy your restaurant’s marketing craves.

Passionified Roses - Are You Full or Empty this Valentine’s Day?

What is the key to being fully booked this Valentine’s Day?

Better yet, how can a restaurant fully leverage this holiday all February? It’s all about the roses, but perhaps not in the way you are thinking.

I’m not suggesting that you put all other plans on hold and ring a super-quality florist to make sure that each couple is given only the most luscious of roses upon arrival –though that certainly would not hurt! What I am actually referring to is the example of ‘passionified roses’ given to us by 20th-Century French philosopher Roland Barthes.

Valentine's Day Roses

Independent of its associations with love and Valentine’s Day, roses have another, more basic meaning. They are just flowers – thorny, crimson, and generally considered to be beautiful. They have existed since the dinosaurs and therefore concepts passion and love have zero inherent associations with them.

In Western culture we choose to signify our passion (the signified) to our lover with roses (the signifier). When roses are combined with passion – that is the signifier and signified respectively, they produce what we know as Valentine’s Day roses, which are an undisputed sign of one’s passion and love for another.

What is demonstrated above is that the term rose can exist with two rather different meanings. Rose the signifier, or a rose that is a flower of a certain genus that has nothing inherent about it to do with Valentine’s Day. And rose the sign that so utterly means love, passion and Valentine’s Day that it is almost a cliché to give a dozen of them as a gift to one’s partner on special occasions.

Valentine's Day Roses

Restaurateur, if you are serious about filling up your restaurant with customers this Valentine’s Day consider how this is deeply relevant to you and your marketing.

Objects and words can be entirely empty of meaning (the signifier) or can be entirely full (the sign).  Your job – or your marketer’s – is to communicate why people should choose your restaurant over the other ten thousand plus ones that exist in London… To have any hope of doing so effectively, your Valentine’s Day marketing message must be full to the brim!

For a successful and lucrative Valentine’s Day, it will take more than a half-hearted email marketing template that makes use of the colour pink, hearts and – of course – roses. It will take more than a rushed Valentine’s Day menu that is treated as an afterthought that may or may not include a glass of cheap ‘bubbly’. By doing this you will be falling in the trap of proposing a random collage of empty signifiers to your customers.

Valentine's Day Roses

Empty signifiers – though technically meaningless – in the context of Valentine’s Day marketing are actually rather meaningful. They broadly flag to your customers that your restaurant is proposing an incoherent and therefore unappealing message and that your restaurant simply cannot be bothered to produce a worthwhile Valentine’s Day experience. Empty signifiers will mean that your marketing message will be passed up in favour of a restaurant’s whose Valentine’s Day marketing message is full.

Valentine’s Day customers are not looking for a deal or discount. They want the full force of the meaning of Valentine’s Day oozing out of your marketing – email and social media, content, website and menu. Beyond this, what they really want to see is how your restaurant’s version of Valentine’s Day is particularly worthwhile and unique.

So think about it… What does Valentine’s Day mean to you and/or your restaurant? Are you a fancy French restaurant and is Champagne your romantic beverage of choice? Make a Champagne tasting menu and allow your marketing to fully convey the reasons why for your restaurant Champagne and passion are inextricably linked…

Are you a simple but authentic Italian restaurant whose customers are not willing to spend upwards of £25 per person? No problem – full meaning does not have to be expensive! Why not dedicate your Valentine’s Day experience to the romantic city Roma with a menu centred on its famous pasta dishes (if you are spending more than £2 for the ingredients for a portion of cacio e pepe, you are making it incorrectly!)? The charms of Rome are an endless source inspiration for the most impactful and meaningful of marketing content, provided your message conveys why you love Rome without falling back on empty clichés.

Above everything else, it is crucial that you weigh the particular Valentine’s Day experience at your restaurant with your own passion to make each meal a veritable sign that your restaurant loves its customers and cares deeply about their satisfaction!