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.

Afterthoughts

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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