George Zinkhan, a University of Georgia marketing professor, is suspected of shooting to death his wife Marie Bruce and two others, Ben Teague and Tom Tanner, at a gathering of the Town and Gown Players theater group in Athens, Georgia, Saturday.
On Teague's web site, he wrote about receiving Zinkhan's Consumers, a textbook he wrote on marketing:
by Eric Arnould, Linda Price and George Zinkhan
So George and I were talking about beer and he mentioned Pilsner Urquell. I told him my Pilsner Urquell story:
You have to understand about Atlanta. They have fine landscapes and splendid institutions. Stone Mountain is the biggest extrusive granite monolith in North America, and you can see it from everywhere around. But ask a native what you should see while you're in town, and you'll get one of two answers: the "attractions" at Stone Mountain Park, by which they mean the rides, or "Oh, you must shop at Phipps Plaza." Those are not the only ways in which Atlanta is peculiar, but they'll do for right now.
I was there for some event that was either over or not started yet, and because (as Paul Newman says) a fellow has to be somewhere, I stopped in for a bite to eat at Lenox Square. The Patak Brothers at that time ran a tiny delicatessen where they sold their own incomparable sausages, so I asked what they had for supper. The last slice of country pate and some French bread from that morning, they told me. I got that, a dab of mustard, and a bottle of Pilsner Urquell, and sat in the loud, grimy food court and enjoyed a finer meal than I've ever had in a seventy-dollar restaurant. It's imprinted, permanently I hope, in my memory.
George became excited about the story. He holds an endowed chair in marketing at the university's College of Business, and he knew exactly what I was talking about: remembered consumption. He went to his car, extracted a copy of his book, and inscribed it to me. A generous act, I thought.
Now this is not a review of George's book, just a note about the story and the gift, plus a mention of some fascinating stuff that comes in a late chapter about the "meaning" of consumption. The authors have collected a vast amount of information about what products, and the act of consuming them, mean to people. They show how people interpret everything from wedding cake to blue jeans: in terms of the satisfaction they derive, the messages they send and receive, the ways products go together to form ways of living. Goods can acquire "sacred" meaning—with deference to the endower of George's chair, I suspect Coca-Cola has some sacred qualities to Southerners -- as well as secular meaning through their utility but also through the notions we attach to them. There's a chart on which I can precisely locate my memory of the pate and Pilsner meal: high on the Pleasure axis and moderately far out on the Sleepiness axis, hence in the Contentment region. The meaning of the product then has implications for how you think about marketing the product as well as marketing the act of consuming it.
It's a perspective I would not have gained if George and I hadn't gotten into that conversation. It is good to have this to think about.
The book is a textbook, in fact a heavy textbook, and perhaps won't appeal to a wide nonstudent audience, but it presents some useful insights in an easy-to-absorb way. I don't think I have assigned it any sacred meaning, but in secular terms the gift means a lot.