How the Hell Does ...


The Journal published a feature story about people using Twitter to deliver updates on the lines of shoppers waiting to get into Trader Joe’s.

As the first step in reverse-engineering the “why” behind the Journal devoting significant real estate to the topic, we ask the macro questions:

  • Does the story reveal something new about the economy?
  • Does the story provide lessons on business operations?
  • Does the story help investors?
  • Does the story make a case for manufacturing more chocolate-coated pretzels?

No, no, no and no. Trader Joe’s isn’t even traded as a public company.

So why does a Tier 1 business publication devote a feature to this topic? It’s a fun story. At a time when sobering COVID-19 stats continue to bombard the public — and the guy living in the White House claims a tumbler of hydroxychloroquine a day keeps the doc away — here’s a feel-good story. An informal network of Good Samaritans is helping people avoid the shopping lines at Trader Joe’s. The overarching theme is one of humanity.

Drilling down to the next level reveals storytelling techniques in the construction of the story.

A killer anecdote kicks off the story:

“Adir Yolkut, a 33-year-old rabbi living in Brooklyn, was preparing for a virtual school singing show when he noticed the tweet: No line at Trader Joe’s. “I saw it in one of those heaven-parting moments,” Mr. Yolkut said. Immediately, he jumped in his car and drove over to the nearest store location in the Cobble Hill neighborhood, returning home an hour later with bags of groceries including dried mangos, cheddar cheese and sweet-potato crackers.”

We consistently find that the anecdotal content in business publications ranges from 15% – 25% per feature story. Yet, if you were to audit the content created by the PR function, the percent of anecdotal content would be lucky to hit 3%.

The Journal story also delivers contrast, explaining what life was like before the “invention:”

“Before he discovered Mr. Shwirtz’s feed, Mr. Yolkut used to stop by the store at random times, hoping to catch the line at its shortest. Once he arrived an hour before the 9 a.m. opening time. He ended up waiting 90 minutes to get inside.”

Finally, the reader enjoys a touch a levity:

“Adrian Moyer, a freelance marketing consultant who lives in Oakland, Calif., launched her own Trader Joe’s webcam in April, though she said it has taken some work to perfect the setup. The live stream has been thwarted before by glare from the sunlight, as well as her poodle Perry, who has a tendency to knock the old iPhone 7 over when she’s not around.”

And that’s how the Trader Joe’s story landed in The Wall Street Journal.

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