Marketing Case Studies From the OC Night Market

OC Night Market
This past Saturday, Penny and I went down to the OC Night Market held at the OC Fairgrounds in Costa Mesa. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the concept, the Night Markets are patterned off the ones you find in Asia. In it, hundreds of vendors set up food stalls serving anything from the savory to the sweet. While the prices are high, the variety and novelty that’s on display make it worth checking out if you want to be able to walk around and sample to your heart’s content.

With all those vendors out there, deciding what to eat or drink from the myriad of choices can quickly become overwhelming. There are a lot of stalls, sure, but many stalls had the same sort of dishes. How is one stall’s lamb skewers different from another’s? What’s the difference between one stall’s takoyaki versus another’s. These underlying questions made choosing between each stall an irrelevant choice at best and a gamble at worst. Because of that, the key to successful Night Market sales would be product differentiation and clever marketing ideas. And here are two examples of products/stalls that did very well for themselves.

OC Night Market Snacks

Case Study 1: Main Squeeze

Main Squeeze’s product is pretty simple: serve lemonade by offering many different flavors. Selling lemonade is a simple concept done to death by many an elementary school kid, but the presentation of the product was something else entirely. When it comes to lemonade, “engaging” isn’t a word you’d pair with it. But here, Main Squeeze managed to come up with an idea that impressed me by how engaging it was. The people who ran that stall knew their customers, and here’s what they did:

  • Serve lemonade in a mason jar that…
  • Had a plastic ice cube that flickered different colored lights
  • With a sticker of the brand name (Main Squeeze) prominently shown on the outside.

When you keep in mind that most of Main Squeeze’s customers would be walking around from food stall to food stall in the evening, all of the elements that went into their product would work in tandem to (I’m pretty sure) yield lots of sales.

First of all, the flashing plastic cubes would catch people’s attention with their color. That alone will prompt people to turn towards the source of light and they’ll see it coming from a mason jar containing lemonade. Seeing the lemonade in the mason jar gives it an air of sophistication (especially for the hipstery-inclined), thereby eliciting curiosity as to where the lemonade can be purchased. And when they looked closer at the mason jar, they’d see the Main Squeeze logo and will then seek out that stall, especially when they get thirsty eating all that savory stuff from the other stalls. Hook. Line. Sinker!

And yes, I wound up buying the strawberry lemonade which came to $8. An expensive price when you consider that the ingredients going into the lemonade were tap water, some lemonade powder that you can buy at any old grocery store, topped off with some frozen strawberries. But as a marketing lesson, it was brilliant and really impressed the hell out of me with its execution. All of the lemonade’s marketing elements worked, and as I walked around with that flashing ice cube, I got asked where I purchased the lemonade and was able to helpfully direct them towards the Main Squeeze stall.

Ice Cream Garden Stall

Case Study 2: Ice Cream Garden LA

Even though this is a shoutout to Sophia Wong, an MBA classmate from USC who’s also a board game aficionado, I still think she did an amazing job with her product. Or rather products because she sure knew how to get people talking about them.

Her stall, Ice Cream Garden LA, took the concept of mixing Oreos and ice cream in a way that would make the people who came up with the McFlurry fits. All they did was put some ice cream into a plastic cup, heap some Oreo crumbs on top, place the whole thing into a cup that looks like a plant pot, add a gummy worm and a mint sprig, and a commonplace dessert looks pretty appealing! All of the ingredients that went into the dirt cup fit together in a way that’s thematically cohesive and works to make people curious enough to seek them out.

But her food item that had me most impressed was her rainbow grilled cheese sandwiches. Here, she took 5 different cheeses, including Monterey Jack and cheddar cheese, dyed each cheese a different color, and made grilled cheese sandwiches that, when you opened them up, would yield that rainbow-like effect. Cheesy? Yes, obviously, but it also made people curious enough to try it. I saw people standing in line at Ice Cream LA’s neighbors’ stalls point at their rainbow grilled cheese sign and talking about wanting to go there next to give it a shot. If getting people to talk about it is a good sign of a solid marketing plan, then Ice Cream LA definitely succeeded in that regard.


From the looks of it, success at the Night Markets or any similar event requires you to be able to elicit reactions like, “Whoa! What is that?”, “Hey, where’d you get that?”, or “Oh my god, I have to try this out!”. Serving the same old thing, even if it’s a staple Night Market item, isn’t nearly as effective as marketing gimmicks like the ones I described above.

But even with those unique marketing tricks, the product itself still has to be decent. The last thing the vendor wants to have happen is for a curious onlooker to approach you asking where you obtained the food or drink item in question only for you to tell them that they shouldn’t bother because it sucks. Thankfully, I could say that the Main Squeeze lemonade tasted pretty good and that I really enjoyed Ice Cream Garden LA’s Oreo Dirt Cup.

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A Eulogy to My Grandfather


To my Grandfather, Nguyen Tu Mo:

The story that often gets told about me when I was one or two years old was how slowly I ate. My mother would come home from work in the evening to find my grandfather, my Ong Noi, patiently feeding me baby food. Except that wasn’t my dinner. I was still finishing up my lunch with Ong Noi offering me one slow spoonful after another. The ordeal of feeding me had started at noon.

But that was the kind of person Ong Noi was. He possessed an endless reservoir of patience and kindness. When I got sick in preschool and became a crying, vomit-covered mess, Ong Noi would come to pick me up and bring me home. Seeing his calm demeanor comforted me every time. And I never saw him get angry or exasperated even when he’d have to fetch me from the school bus terminal because I had gotten on the wrong bus for the 3rd time that week. He’d cheerfully arrive and take me by the hand and we’d walk to his car together.

In addition to being a good caretaker, Ong Noi was also a great teacher. My early civics lessons revolved around Ong Noi taking me to rallies protesting Vietnam’s communist government. I’d march around, hold signs and shout along with the protestors. There, I witnessed camaraderie from their united purpose, but I also saw heated moments from those who did not have the context to understand why Vietnam’s freedom meant so much to us. But Ong Noi, through that experience, taught me to stand firm for what I believed in and to put larger interests above myself. It’s a lesson that has stayed with me.

As I grew older, and my siblings, Oliver and Romie came into the world, Ong Noi was always there to help smooth over the rough times. When my mother fell ill, Ong Noi readily took all three of us in for a week. As worrying as the situation was, he still cheered us up by taking us to Mile Square Park, letting us walk around and feed the ducks and geese as they waddled over and honked at us. I remember sitting in the family room, watching his fingers deftly fly across the Nintendo controller as he played his favorite game, Dr. Mario. But most of all, I loved his stories of Vietnam and how he went from being a judge, to finally becoming a professor at Vietnam’s Dental School in Saigon.

When it came to life milestones, Ong Noi was always there to celebrate each one. He was there for all my graduations: high school, undergrad, and grad school. And on my end, I got to spend time with him, taking him to Tet Festivals or community anniversaries where he’d scurry around with the energy of a man 20 years younger to catch up with friends old and new. He was a good man, a wonderful teacher, and an amazing grandfather who approached life with a vigor and persistence that allowed him to do so much for everyone else, but also be with us grandkids every step of the way. A man who loved and cared deeply and was loved in return. A judge, dentist, professor, community leader, husband, father, but most importantly to me, my Ong Noi. May we treasure our memories of him and the lives of all he touched.

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5 Takeaways From My Trip To China

Skyline Shanghai
As of this post, I’m in the midst of my second trip to China. And like my previous trip, it’s had its share of eye-opening moments, moments that have reinforced and expanded upon what I learned the first time I visited China. It’s also given me a lot of downtime. Because of that, I’ve been using that time to go over my first trip, a trip that took me to Shanghai and Guilin. In looking back, I learned a whole heck of a lot.

So with that, here are my 5 takeaways from that trip: Read More »

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I’ve Started A Board Games Website!

Terra Mystica
It was in 2008, after yet another a busy tax season. I had worked for the accounting firm for about 1.5 years and was looking to do something different. A coworker and I had tossed around some ideas for what we could work on while we were in the lull between busy seasons and decided to try an idea that we had brainstormed together. So on that fateful day, I ran back home after work, and signed up for a hosting account and domain name. On a whim, I decided to sign up for another domain for kicks. Nothing came of the first domain. The second domain became Anime Instrumentality.

And what a ride that’s been! My passion for anime music continues to this day. From it, I was introduced to a larger community of anime bloggers, got the opportunity to do presentations on a specific composer at Anime Expo, and made a lot of friends in the process. I also learned a lot about web marketing (SEO and Social, in particular), web analytics, and even a bit of A/B testing. All of this translated into work I did for MarshallWear’s e-commerce site and the stuff I’m doing now at my current job at Core Digital Media.

The urge to work on passion projects continues however. After working in performance marketing for a little over two years, I’ve become interested in seeing whether I can replicate Anime Instrumentality’s success. This time, I’ve decided to start a board game website titled My Board Game Guides. Most of you probably know how much I love board games, how much I love teaching board games, how much I love spreading the love for board games by introducing people to it, and how much I love running board game afternoons/evenings. My goal in starting My Board Game Guides is to write general interest articles related to board gaming, provide news about new game releases that may be of interest to others, review the many board games out there, and create strategy guides on how to play those games well.

And if you do visit, let me know what you think. Pretty much, everything is me taking a WordPress theme, putting in the widgets and going from there. But I’m very excited about this. So wish me luck on this next adventure and hope to see some of you over there in the process!

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Japan PRIME Trip: Prologue – To Kyoto and Beyond

In retrospect, I didn’t have a real concrete, educated expectation on what Japan would be like. In looking at pictures of Japan and hearing stories from people who have previously been there, I’d hear a lot about these historical sites scattered around Japan, hearkening to the Sengoku Era on back. I’d hear about these luxurious hot springs out in the mountains. But most of all, I heard about the cityscapes and just how crowded and active they were. With people yelling, hawking their wares or announcing the latest sale. With bright lights that were hypnotic, drawing your attention and curiosity. And the transportation systems which were convenient, even efficient, but absolutely jam-packed. And living spaces that are small and cramped (dryers are rarely used because space is such a luxury). Urban sprawl. Born out of Japan’s rebirth from the ashes of World War II as it rose to become an industrial power and bathe itself in the machinery of modernity. Read More »

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