Saturday, November 10, 2007

Rice-A-Roni--The San Francisco Treat!

Vincent M. DeDomenico Sr., one of the co-creators of Rice-A-Roni passed away last month at the age of 92. Mr. DeDomenico was a brilliant marketer who was the driving force behind three rather significant contributions to American culture.
First and foremost, he brought Rice-A-Roni, an easy to prepare side dish to the American dinner table. Introduced regionally in 1958, Rice-A-Roni concluded its national roll-out during the Kennedy era. The dish is a simple one--a combination of rice, vermicelli, and a chicken soup stock. The marketing of Rice-A-Roni transformed a sleepy little family business, Golden Grain Macaroni Company into a prepared food powerhouse that was purchased by Quaker Oats in 1986 for $275 million dollars.

One of the brands that made Golden Grain so desirable was the second contribution Mr. DeDomenico made to the American palate was in 1964 when he purchased Ghirardelli Chocolate Company, founded in 1852 by Domingo Ghirardelli. Under Mr. DeDomenico's guidance Ghirardelli Chocolate went from being a local delicacy to a world-class brand.
His third contribution was a more modest effort. In 1987, Mr. DeDomenico purchased 21 miles of Southern Pacific Railroad track in the Napa Valley. He then restored and refurbished vintage Pullman cars. He started a business known as the Napa Valley Wine Train. It features fine dining on the way to Napa Valley wineries. Although the Wine Train was a controversial entity with the local population, the American public loved it. Cory and I have been on it and it is a lot of fun--but I'm biased, I love luxury rail travel.

So, yeah, Vincent M. DeDomenico Sr's efforts definitely made an impression on post-war America. And, I think in the end, what he will be remembered for above all else is his insistence that Rice-A-Roni be advertised by a strong jingle.
Jingles had been the foundation of American advertising since the mid-19th century. Even before music was twined to it, jingles in the form of catchy printed rhymes were all pervasive in American life. With the establishment of radio and NBC's curious policy of forbidding direct selling to the consumer--the radio jingle flourished. It was argued at the time, that product jingles were more in the category of product theme songs as opposed to hard, direct selling.
Uh huh.
With the introduction of television, jingles linked up with visual imagery. The Golden Age of TV ad jingles was the 1950's and it was at the tail end of that decade that Mr. DeDomenico's new product Rice-A-Roni was launched in American supermarkets.

Mr. DeDomenico's daughter said her father insisted that his new product be driven by a strong jingle. "He said if there is a jingle, people will say it over and over in their heads," she recalled.
And what a jingle it was.
Check out these vintage commercials:

In five simple lines, the idea is conveyed that Rice-A-Roni is some sort of regional delicacy.
(It was not.)
Rice-A-Roni has a unique new taste.
(It did.)
Rice-A-Roni promises to be far easier to prepare than either rice or macaroni.
(It was.)
And then top it off with the novelty of a ringing street car bell!

Finally, the announcer in a voice over delivers the killing blow:
"Rice-A-Roni, the delicious break from potatoes!"
Did it work?
We know the answer to that.

Whether or not you personally like the product or not--one must acknowledge how incredibly intertwined San Francisco cable cars and Rice-A-Roni are in the American popular culture.
I can think of no higher tribute to Mr. DeDomenico's marketing skills than this his video clip I found on YouTube.

No comments: