How The Chilean Sea Bass Got Its Name (A Marketing Story)

Lee Lantz sold fish. Wholesale. He sold to restaurants, stores, and whoever the other bulk buyers of fish were. On a trip to Chile, he saw the ugliest fish he’d ever seen. Look it up for yourself, but the Patagonian Toothfish sounds about as pretty as it looks. Growing to near human-size with bugged-out eyes, a protruding jaw and teeth jutted out, nobody was posing for dock pictures with one of these. The fishermen called them “trash fish” because they would throw them away if they caught one. But, the thing about the Patagonian Toothfish was, as Lantz found out, they tasted amazing.

When you eat fish at a fancy restaurant, you don’t see the thing on the plate, you see the name on the menu and then have the experience of the meal. This what Lantz knew to be true. With the Patagonian Toothfish, he had found a diamond hidden in a lump of coal. As Dave Trott explains in “Drinking the Label,”

It’s not a secret formula, you must have supply and demand: a good product and people who want it. So the job is twofold: discover (or make) a good product, discover (or create) a demand.

Lantz had the product. Now he needed a story to create the demand. This is how the Chilean Sea Bass was born. In one of the great re-brands of (fish) history, Lantz moved the trash fish to Michelin Star plates with the change of a name. Once people tasted it, it was game over. Within the next few years, the government had to put restrictions on how many could be caught. Demand had been secured. Here’s Trott again on why this worked,

What Lantz had understood was what all chefs understand, presentation: before you eat a dish with your mouth, you eat it with your eyes. Although in this case it was: you eat it with your ears. The name creates the image, the image creates the taste. There’s a saying in beer advertising: you drink the label.

The products and services people consume are wrapped up in the stories they see around them. Presentation matters. Description matters. Connection matters. When we invest time and energy into getting the label and description right, we invest time and energy into securing the demand our success depends on. Our goal is not to just make great products and services, but curate them to create genuine demand for their best use.

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