Carpe Diem: Why the Asian Carp Faces a Branding Challenge — and How a Lesson from Alaskan Salmon Could Help Feed Millions

The state of Illinois has recently launched an anti-hunger campaign, along with accompanying news coverage, to elevate the perceptions and status of Asian carp. Evidently, invasive foreign carp are growing at an incredible rate throughout the Midwest, are clogging the waterways, competing for food sources with native species of fishand potentially threatening the $7 billion fishing industry in the region.  Not to mention boaters and fishermen are sometimes smacked in the head when the jumpy carp leap out of the water.  The solution:  Possibly offer millions of pounds of Asian carp meat as a food source for the area’s 1.8 million poor, and maybe even provide the fish on a worldwide scale to feed the hungry.  Or create an appetite for Asian carp to the point where it is served as a delicacy in top restaurants in the country.  After all, blind taste tests put the flavor of the Asian carp at somewhere between tilapia and salmon.There is only one main problemthe name of the fish. “Carp.” The name itself makes you think… “Eeeewww.”  You know, carp in muddy rivers.  Kind of smelly.  Carp in ornamental ponds at the mall.  Big goldfish.  All perceptions of carp.  And it’s not an easy solution, changing the perception of carp to feed the world.  For years and years, carp has been engrained in our brains as a “non-edible fish”.  Almost to a cult-like status and fodder for fish tales.
I remember back in ’72 when Dad and I went fishing in the summer clay-clouded waters of the Red River in Fargo, North Dakota.  And we caught a carp.  Not knowing any better, we threw it in the back trunk of our ’64 Rambler and brought the carp home to eat.  After about two hours of talking with neighbors about “oof-dah, that carp ain’t good eatin’ fish” and poking at  it with a stick, we decided to take it back to the river.  We thought it was dead after nearly three hours.  But sure enough, when we threw it back in the water, its fins kicked in and it swam away.  No big deal.       –Note:  An actual Maricich family story.So, how can we change the negative perception of Asian carp to the positive and possibly feed the world?  It’s all a branding challenge.  Change the perceptions of the “carp brand”.Asian carp can take a lesson from Alaskan salmon.  Back in the 1940’s, Alaskan salmon was thought of by some people as a “junk fish”.  King salmon was served in school lunches in the state of Washington, as well as in jailsall because of its abundant quantity, low cost and high nutritional value.  It wasn’t until a few creative chefs in the big cities, such as Chicago and New York, began serving salmon as a gourmet entrée, that the stature and perception of salmon became elevated universally.  And nowadays, there is the Alaskan Seafood Marketing Institute, all in place to keep the positive perception of Alaskan wild salmon, and other Alaskan seafood, in place.  So carpe diem, seize the day Asian carp, and maybe someday World Food Day will become World Carp Day!  (Probably not, but for Asian carp, it won’t hurt to aim high.)So for kicks, how about if we start with creating branding and advertising concepts for the “Eat Carp” campaign right now!  Initial campaign slogans that come to mind include:Or, maybe we should completely re-brand the name of “Asian carp” and change it to something totally different and maybe a little more exciting or respectful, like: