If I said to you, name 3 high-class dishes you might find yourself getting for a special occasion. You know, that once a year special dinner you have, maybe an anniversary, or a big work accomplishment.

What stands out on the menu? Filet mignon? Lobster? Patagonian toothfish?

I’m sure you were nodding with me until I said Patagonian toothfish LOL.

Well Marketing Student, today’s lesson dives into the depths of the ocean to break down one of the most absurd rebranding campaigns I’ve come across on the timeline.

In other words, the Patagonian toothfish is a fish you’ve definitely heard of, it just goes by a new name.

That new name? Ahh I love it, you’re eager to get into it.

The Chilean Sea Bass.

What do ya say we jump back to the late 1970s?

Picture this, you’re a fisherman or fisherwoman in South American waters, global fishing populations are dwindling, and it’s getting tougher to come back to the markets with the haul you promised. 

So you look to longlines as the solution to dive deeper into the water and find the fish you’re looking for. And it works, but there was a catch.

This new tech caused an increasing number of bycatch (other fish species in the catch that you weren’t originally fishing for) and that’s not cool. Most fish that are bycatch are discarded and left with a grim future.

In the South American waters specifically, the Patagonian toothfish, a large deep-sea fish in the cold waters near South America, was the frequent culprit of bycatch from the longlines. 

That’s when an American fish dealer whose specialty was bringing new fish to market, came across the Patagonian toothfish. Enter Lee Lantz, the fish dealer.

Lee saw the rough looking toothfish and it immediately caught his attention. Eager to learn more, Lantz sampled the toothfish and was hit with its mild flavor, fatty texture, and had a realization.

Lee knew his American audience incredibly well. A white-fleshed fish with a minimal “fishy” taste could familiarize this exotically named and outrageously looking fish for Americans.

Similar in texture to the wildly popular Atlantic Cod that Americans love and rather understated flavor resembling flounder, suddenly the Patagonian toothfish could be palatable.

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There were just a few hurdles, the name and the fish’s perception in the market. The name Patagonian toothfish is rather brash and tbh I don’t want to eat anything with “tooth” in the name. Being that the fish was bycatch, it was also seen as an afterthought, cheap, and just another fish in the ocean.

At the time, locals called the fish the “cod of the deep”, sparking an idea for Lee. If the name Patagonian toothfish wasn’t even sticking with the people who caught the fish, then how would it stick with consumers?

Americans had never heard of a toothfish, they were too busy eating Salmon and catching Bass.

AHH that’s it. Bass. That’s when the Patagonian toothfish became the Chilean Sea Bass. 

The name was the perfect touch of familiarity and exclusivity for Americans. The fish wasn’t just from the Pacific Ocean or South America, it’s from the coast of the incredibly diverse landscape of Chile. 

This was the 1970s, Lee knew that Americans palates weren’t necessarily as open to exotic bites as they are now, but at the same time they still craved that aura of exclusivity. The Chilean Sea Bass hit on both of those.

Side note lesson here, trying to do ANY Marketing without understanding your customers is like trying to drive a car blindfolded. You can’t do it. Props to Lee there, he knew his customers.

By giving the Patagonian toothfish a more elegant and high-class name Lee thought that would enable him to sell the fish to luxury restaurants ASAP. Well it didn’t.

The Chilean Sea Bass garnered little attention outside of a few wholesalers looking to find a cheap alternative to halibut in fish sticks. 

But that didn’t sway Lee (shoutout Swae Lee LOL). Chinese restaurants then looked to Lee for a cost effective alternative to black cod, and suddenly the Chilean Sea Bass began swimming upstream. Not literally, but you’ll see what I mean.

Celebrity chefs began to take notice of this unfamiliar Chilean Sea Bass and played around with different cooking styles and seasonings. The Chilean Sea Bass held up well.

Suitable for any method of cooking, spice, and never overcooking, chefs started to serve it with couscous, apple fennel salad, and all sorts of posh sides. 

No matter how excellent your Marketing is, it can’t make up for a crummy product. Now that doesn’t mean you need an A+++ product in order to do any successful Marketing, your product just needs to function well enough to make sense in consumers minds, like the Chilean Sea Bass.

Within 10 years the Chilean Sea Bass (which is a type of Cod btw) was being served at The Four Seasons and in 2001 was named Bon Appetit’s dish of the year.

From fish sticks to The Four Seasons, this lesson in the power of a rebrand kicks bass, I mean, a**.

Daniel Murray
Daniel Murray
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