I have a confession to make. After 21 years of intrinsic knowledge that I should never, ever go near the stuff - learning that it was "beneath" me, even - I have come to know and love the leading name in canned meat: Spam.
It all started when I decided to throw a Hawaiian "luau" as the kickoff party for Skidmore College's Asian Cultural Awareness month this last April. Amongst other things, one phrase that was excitedly repeated again and again by my Hawaiian friends was "spam." I kept wondering if I'd heard them right, and then I wiki-ed the term in hopes that maybe, just maybe, "spam" was also the word for a special Hawaiian food. But apparently the canned meat is huge in Hawaii, and to my great surprise, I. loved it.
It's also recently boasting double-digit sales increases here in the continental U.S., a fact which AdvertisingAge explains is thanks to strong branding and not necessarily attributable to economic strife alone. The principle argument here is that Spam has been around for over 70 years now, surviving through times of both economic boom and bust. Given my own surprise at the price of spam the last time I went shopping for the popular canned meat, I am inclined to believe the company's argument. Often, Spam is not even necessarily cheaper by the ounce than the ground beef you buy at your local supermarket (though its long shelf life certainly does still make it an economical purchase).
But there is something special about Spam that I've noticed. People who like Spam love Spam. I mean, really love Spam. They post their favorite Spam recipes online, join Spam's official fanclub, or some even buy The Book of Spam(no, I am not joking). From what I've seen, it’s almost as if the “bad rap” Spam receives by predominantly unknowledgeable consumers (like myself pre-Spamdom) just incenses fans to prove it all wrong. I would not call myself a huge “fan,” (I'm waiting on membership approval) but even I find myself telling my friends about it, thinking of ways to sneak it into my cooking so that they’ll try it without realizing it’s Spam! It’s as if there’s a sense of loyalty automatically bestowed on whosoever enjoys Spam – a response to its status as a “mystery meat” to non-believers everywhere.
Additionally Spam is a domestic product with a lot of history. Having served as a major food staple to troops abroad in World War II, many veterans would even tell you that Spam saved soldiers’ lives during a time where fresh meat and protein were difficult to come by. If it weren’t for Spam’s development of a very loyal customer base, along with its positive wartime association at its startup, the canned meat may very well have been relegated to the strictly “inferior goods” section of the market, thriving only in times of economic struggle. Whether people are debating its “mystery meat” contents or singing its praises, everybody knows and has talked about Spam at some point. It just goes to show that having a specific image is always a major aspect of a product’s marketing and appeal, even for the least glamorous of consumer goods.