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The Vacuum Issue 12 Down Mexico Way spacer The Vacuum Issue 12 - Down Mexico Way
Pravda - Obrien's Irish Sandwich Bar
by Robbie Meredith
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The pitch, I imagine, went something like this: 'Look, guys, people don't buy sandwiches, right. What do you see, huh? You see some bread, cheap chicken smothered in cheap red paste, a few leaves maybe, a bit of mayo but what does your customer see? Your customer sees themselves in that wrap, fellas, they're buying their identity, their lifestyle that bread, friends, is who they are!
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So, guys, you're telling them who they want to be. You gotta think of your demographic. With every sandwich you're saying to them, "We, O'Briens, know you. We know who you are. We know who you want to be. And we want to go there too." Think of it, your customers are tough, they're busy but not too tough or busy to believe they can care as well. They're proud of where they come from, proud of their land, but, like you guys, they have a global vision, they're not hung up on insularity. One day they might want good old Irish ham, but, hey, the next day it could be, say, Irish ham with parmesan or Mexican chili. You see what I'm saying?
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Also, they're people people, yeah? They're individual. They like wit, a bit of humour, some time out. And O'Briens is the sandwich bar for them because you have all these things at number 24 on the menu, any time of day. Shout it out, boys, shout it out!'
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So, some very expensive PR advice later, O'Briens (and no, there isn't another apostrophe) produced a magazine to take their message to the world. Formed in 1988, they now have franchises in around twenty countries across America, Asia and Europe, and in each er street in the global village, some poor hack, who once dreamt of exposing child prostitution rackets or government corruption, now gets paid to write features on how to de-stress as you make your way from the office to buy your O'Briens sandwich.
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Sticking to the imagined PR template, the Irish edition of their magazine contains three features on the charity work undertaken by O'Briens franchisees 'and friends' to raise money for the Special Olympics, as well as information on the opening of a new outlet at Glasgow airport and the Padraig Harrington Golf Classic, tips on beating stress (which includes popping out for an O'Briens sandwich, of course), and a day of the life of one of their reps. Therefore O'Briens proclaim that they're your caring, sharing, rooted but outward, human sandwich bar.
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Which is fine. Corporate PR is all about promoting capitalism with a warm, fuzzy feel and O'Briens are unremarkable in that respect. But, as my old English tutor used to say, let's look for the gaps in the narrative. For instance, I wonder if the lowly paid staff who actually serve the sandwiches appreciate O'Briens commitment to provide corporate platters 'wherever or whenever,' or does this mean more targets to meet and more overtime at short notice? Similarly, I wonder if they appreciated the secret investigator, posing as a customer, who visited stores to test staff on 'five criteria ranging from their greeting to their farewell.' And are we really meant to believe that the Northern Irish Development Agent for the chain enjoys nothing better than 'the craic' with customers in the four stores he oversees? The magazine ends with a desperate feature on things to say to colleagues at work when you are really annoyed, such as 'do they ever shut up on your planet?' (and that's the best one), and small print legalese which warns you against adapting any of the content of the publication. Oops.
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But, hey, despite all this, all you have to remember is that you're not just a customer, you're a friend.
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