Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Gherkin Theory

A few months ago, I saw that McDonalds were attempting to spawn a 'viral' marketing campaign - they posed a question and tried to encourage people to tweet back an answer. I expect that this failed abysmally, as I really hope people have better things to do with their time, but it did lead me to put a name to something I'd been pondering for some time.

The question was whether or not people liked having gherkins on the Big Mac.

My theory is that even for people who don't like gherkins having them on the Big Mac improves the experience.

Now, before I go any further, I should note that this applies only in the case where the gherkin is the only thing the person doesn't like about the Big Mac - if you don't like the gherkins and the salad and the sauce, then the Gherkin Theory doesn't apply... and what you want is a different burger. (Oh, and of course, I'm only talking about people who don't like gherkins. A person with an actual intolerance or allergy to them is entirely a different matter!)

Anyway, on to the theory itself...

I learned some time ago that when people make up perfumes, they can't just take a bunch of nice scents and blend them together. If they do that, the resulting perfume is invariably sickly-sweet and will be rejected by the vast majority of people. Therefore, they always include one (and almost always only one) less-than-pleasant scent in amongst the selection. This single "off note" is subtle enough not to be consciously detected by the potential customer, but is just enough to cut through the sweetness of the others, and gives a more mature, more rounded, and more satisfying whole.

(The same applies in cookery, too, of course, where by pairing foods you can improve the whole. In particular, using lemon juice to cut through the sweetness of many fruits is a common trick.)

So, when we come to the Big Mac, we have three rough groups of people (at least, as far as relevance to this discussion is concerned): people who like the gherkin on the Big Mac, people who mildly dislike the gherkin, and people who really hate the gherkin.

Now, for the people who like the gherkin, there is little further discussion required. The likelihood is that the reason they like the gherkin is precisely because of the contrast that it brings to the other components - in effect, they're already applying what I've mentioned above.

For the people who dislike the gherkin, the benefit of them being present is as I've outlined above - by including that single "off note", the other flavours are brought together. Huzzah!

Now, for the people who hate the gherkin, how can I possibly argue that their experience is improved by having the gherkin present? Well, it's in this: by getting the Big Mac with gherkins present, they then get the great joy of removing and discarding those gherkins prior to eating the burger. Which gives them a victory over their hated enemy - they've now taken action that has directly (albeit almost trivially) improved their lives. (And the value of small victories shouldn't be overlooked - some days, those are the only victories you might get, and be all the sweeter for it.)

(Of course, one might argue that having the gherkin on the Big Mac even for a few moments somehow contaminates the rest of the burger. Which sounds like a reasonable argument, but it has two flaws: (1) your palate is almost certainly not sensitive enough to detect such a tiny trace, and (2) if it is, then you surely wouldn't be eating at McDonalds.)

Anyway, that's the gherkin theory. It is, of course, largely nonsense. But it has a name, which makes it better. (But that's "Name Theory". I may come back to that.)

Incidentally, the wider implication of Gherkin Theory (which I was discussing with Captain Ric at the wedding on Saturday, which inspired this post), is actually that being exposed to, and indeed appreciating, the minor imperfections in life is a good thing. Otherwise, you'll spend your life constantly striving for a perfection that is simply unattainable, and so becoming frustrated. But if you're used to, and indeed content with, things that are almost perfect, life is that bit sweeter - you can focus on all the many things that are right, and not focus on the one or two things that are just not quite what you would have wanted.

But that's all rather philosophical for a silly little post about gherkins, isn't it?

(I could, of course, have equally named my theory "Sprout Theory", "Minor Imperfection Theory"... or "Ewok Theory". The latter not to be confused with "Jar Jar Theory", which is what happens when that minor imperfection is over-exaggerated.)

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