branding and plenitude at the Red Cat


The marketplace is struggling to contend with the new multiplicity of consumer taste and preference.

The trick: how to appeal broadly, without descending into the chaotic and indecipherable, or (the older strategy) rising to the unforgivably bland.

This New York restaurant may be an exemplar. According to Frank Bruni,

[T]he Red Cat is a restaurant Rorschach, different things at different times to different people, which is just what its owners, Jimmy Bradley and Danny Abrams, intended. The simultaneously prosaic and cryptic name they gave it alludes to nothing, connotes nothing. It’s a phrase to be imbued with whatever meaning the imbuing party deems fit.

Mr. Bradley and Mr. Abrams did not want to be pigeonholed into any one tidy theme or identity, so they jumbled the decorative motifs, hanging Moroccan lanterns from the ceilings, putting framed paintings and photographs on the walls and using reclaimed barn wood from Pennsylvania, some of it painted red and some white, as paneling. The Red Cat feels vaguely colonial and tavernlike, except when it feels downtown-gallery cool, and apart from those moments when it feels modestly and eclectically elegant. Choose your mood.

Speaking to a heterogeneous marketplace will take new powers and strategies of meaning management. Brands like the Coca-Cola Company have take advantage of fragmenting media to deliver highly targeted messages. There are many messages out there, but we only hear one (or two) of them. Coke is becoming many things to many people.

But restaurants must manifest themselves for anyone in full view of everyone. This will take an exceptional control of the meaning making process. Certainly, the new aesthetic and cultural rules of post-modernism permit variety and the cross-over noise it must create. But still there are going to be moments when meaning collide and contradict one another.

Here’s what I suggest. Those of us blogging about brands in the New York City area meet for dinner at The Red Cat and see what we can see. (How good is the meaning management? How separate are the signals?  How much bleed takes place?  In fact, we should blog from The Red Cat in real time, some of us sitting in the part of that is “vague colonial and tavernlike” and some in the part that is “downtown-gallery cool.”)  Or maybe we’ll just have arguments that are so alcohol assisted, rhetorically elevated and down right loud that they’ll ask to leave.   We just can’t lose. 

Who can do July 12? Contact me at grant27[AT]gmail[DOTCOM].


Bruni, Frank. 2005. A place in the mood for anything. New York Times. June 29th, 2005. here.

Map image of the Red Cat, courtesy of Google Earth.