Kristen Marino

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My First Time at TOPO

After living in Chapel Hill for almost three years, I finally had the chance to have dinner at the famous Top of the Hill restaurant on Franklin Street for my friend’s 21st birthday. I was excited, as I’ve had years of built-up expectations of people telling me how great of an experience it was. The food, the atmosphere, the location and the service was supposed to be stellar, the pinnacle of one’s time at Chapel Hill. I especially thought so after I saw the long lines to get tickets to eat there for the National Championship game.Screen Shot 2017-04-17 at 9.50.07 PM

Though I had a great time with my friends, however, I was a bit disappointed in my experience. The servers were nice enough and it was cool to be seated on “top of the hill” (though we were indoors), but I actually found the food fairly pricey and the menu very limited.

Then, when the food arrived, it was good, but it definitely did not live up to my expectations. I felt a bit disappointed and surprised as I ate what I thought was only slightly better than average appetizer, when I had expected a delicious meal. Of course, it’s definitely possible that my expectations were unrealistic as a result of waiting so long to experience TOPO, but even so it was a bit anticlimactic.

The atmosphere of the restaurant also seemed a bit too posh for my taste. I’m sure there are people who like this experience – and on rare occasions I do too – but it felt a little unsettling in that moment.

Of course, I don’t know exactly how much others actually enjoy TOPO for the food and atmosphere and how much they do just because it’s part of the quintessential Chapel Hill experience. But, I’d say that a key insight gleaned from my experience is that TOPO’s popularity might be much more due to the social and cultural benefit than the actual food and menu offerings; that people might choose to have dinner there not for its array of unique food and decent prices but for the “bucket list” experience.

With this in mind, I would suggest that TOPO modify its promotional material to advertise its place as a UNC staple and steer away from advertising its (sparse) food offerings and prices that are a bit too high for most college students’ budgets. It might also be good for it to expand its menu options.Screen Shot 2017-04-17 at 9.42.44 PM

The Top of the Hill is without a doubt an important part of UNC’s culture, but in my opinion its appeal is a bit overstated. I enjoyed my experience there and would go again for a special occasion, but it did not meet my (perhaps too high?) expectations.

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Open Space in the Soda Market

Brands must have meaningful purposes and target specific niches. They must evoke positive emotional connections with consumers so shoppers will purchase them. While three soda brands – Coca-Cola, Dr Pepper and Pepsi – have unique messaging, there may be space for a new brand focused on individualism and defying the mainstream.

Coca-Cola’s Facebook messaging radiates with themes of closeness, warmth and nostalgia. It evokes happy emotions that create strong, positive affective links, which might persuade consumers. Its “#ShareACoke” hashtag reflects this, as well as its advertisements.

Coke’s planners probably discovered when, where and why people have soda. It probably learned that people have it when socializing and want to feel connected. Coke’s advertisements resonate with me because they remind me of memories with friends, leaving me more likely to remember those happy moments when I see Coke. These communications are probably not meant for those who do not enjoy socializing or soda.

Dr Pepper focuses on taste, necessity and craving. Its Facebook is filled with themes of wanting, relating to how people feel when they simply cannot go without the sugary beverage.

Researchers probably discovered when and why people want Dr Pepper and how they feel when they cannot have it. They might have found that people want it immediately and hate to wait. This could have led to copy about satisfying your craving, appealing to people’s physiological states and trying to evoke desire. This does not resonate with me because I strongly dislike Dr Pepper. Likewise, this strategy would not work for those who do not crave drinks or dislike Dr Pepper.

Finally, Pepsi’s messages are filled with celebrity, fame and football. They appeal to the need for social desirability, suggesting that if people drink Pepsi they will be popular, well-liked and trendy. For example, Pepsi recently did a massive sweepstakes.

Planners at Pepsi could have discovered that people drink soda to feel popular. They might have learned that people want to feel accepted and wish they could be like celebrities. This does not resonate with me because I prefer Coke, but it could work on those who want to be trendy and do not have strong preferences.

After evaluating these competitors, I think there might be an open space for a new brand. It could focus on individualism, being yourself without regard for what others are doing. While Coke focuses on camaraderie, Pepsi on being trendy and Dr Pepper on cravings, there might be a niche of those who want to be different and not stick to the status quo.