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Best and Worst Brands: South Beach's Food and Wine Festival Feb 25-28

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When you go to South Beach, you are not just allowed but encouraged to pack your Glitter, your Electric Blue Onesie and your Rhinestone anything. As for men, there is only rule: open the second button and maybe even the third. So picture me getting my mee-aah-mee on as I bring you the Best and Worst of South Beach's Food and Wine Festival on Feb 25-28. First, I need to tell you that I am in no way a foodie or a connoisseur of wine. Still, I have eyes (and a mouth), so I took my assistant foodie/beefeater with me to the tents on Ocean Drive, 4-inch heels rising and sinking in the sand, to see who rallied around what and why.

My eyes were first drawn to Misha's Cupcakes, whose booth of pink, green, and white had butterfly and flower vector graphics all over and looked like so much fun (I'm not into cutesie, but I loved this particular organization of font/color/graphics). Four-deep the people were gathered around this gay display, with lots of forearm traffic caused by hurried selections of dainty cupcakes from dainty tiers as dainty hands placed them into dainty recipe boxes that were printed in the same theme. My beefeater told me the cupcakes were delicious. Whether they were more amazing than the corporate identity, he did not feel qualified to answer.

I've been branding packaged goods for a while, so when I saw the World's First Sparkling Liqueur, Nuvo, which was Barbie pink and came in an 80's perfume bottle, I wanted to ask the company if they did any market research. If you'd been there, you might have thought I had just seen a fanny pack. Didn't they know better? Who was their market? A woman would prefer perfume in a bottle like that, rather than pink liqueur. A man--or anyone, for that matter--would prefer Dan Akroyd's Crystal Head Vodka, which comes in a cool sculpted glass skull. And well, little girls who play with Barbie may be a good target, but they aren't allowed to drink just yet. Anyway, when I tried Nuvo, it didn't taste that bad, but I'd rather be seen in a scrunchie than be caught drinking that pink stuff. It just wasn't cool. Period. It wasn't cool at all.

Medea Vodka, on the other hand, gets props for creative marketing. Who cares about the taste of the liquor when it comes in--get this--a programmable LED bottle? It's so delightfully gimmicky, but Medea's experienced staff made up for the novelty. They talked to me slowly and carefully about the product, letting me know how and where it fit into my life and who their clients are. Then they programmed my name into the bottle. Who doesn't like seeing their name flashing on the little big screen? And the best part is that each customer interaction was recorded live, then emailed to them in a movie file.

Bad brand interaction occurred at the Barilla tent. Barilla has this amazing campaign called Share The Table to encourage family dinners. You know the concept: families that eat together stay together, and all that. Anyway, there was a great line of people getting buffet-style pasta that was made by amazing chefs (it was yummy, I tried it). At the end of the buffet line, the company had set up picnic benches with game boards on them. I looked at the game boards and then I looked around, and there weren't too many people sitting at the tables. What was wrong with this picture? It seemed like Barilla was trying to extend their Share The Table concept to a tradeshow, and apply the idea of community to perfect strangers at a live event. But it wasn't really clear how we, the public, were supposed to do that (there were no instructions for the game), or if that was even the intention. One of the event staff working the tent came over to me, offered to explain the rules, and asked if I wanted to play. Simple visual cues and instructions on how to interact at the tables would have been more useful, perhaps with some sort of mental or tangible rewards attached to the experience. Nonetheless, did I mention how yummy the pasta was?

I bid you farewell with some good wisdom: it's ok to judge a cow by its purveyor. The booth for Buckshead Beef was authentic. No gorgeous, chesty girls giving out samples, no gimmicky packaging. Just this big guy wearing a huge hat and a smile to match, and a nice, simple presentation of beautifully cut beef with some mash underneath. You knew this was a solid company with solid employees and a product to match. When I went back to write this article, I discovered my intuitions were right. The company's been around since 1983, and its Certified Angus Beef® has ranked #1 worldwide for the previous nine years. And when I bit into this piece of beef, OMG, I just sunk into the sand, 4-inch heels and all.

A quick thanks to Larry Carrino at Brustman Carrino Public Relations. They were a gracious team. Thank you.