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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Friday, April 25, 2014

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Even though they now rent cars, I don't think "Enterprise Car Rental" as much as I do "Nachos Bellgrande."
Even though they now rent cars, I don't think "Enterprise Car Rental" as much as I do "Nachos Bellgrande."

Not so extreme makeovers

I love home renovation, however, I can't watch those "extreme" home shows where Ty Pennington transforms someone's meager digs into a Disney attraction.

I've seen one of the "lucky" homes in person, and it sticks out of the neighborhood like a sore thumb -- a big, obnoxious sore thumb. Not my cup of tea, but, I'll give them this: The show lives up to its name.

Driving around town lately, I've noticed a few businesses that could use the services of Mr. Pennington. I'm not talking about our classically bland strip malls or the faux "hometown feel" of national chain restaurants. I'm talking about buildings that used to be national chain restaurants, like any number of former Taco Bells that are now home to other businesses.

The old Taco Bell on National (just west of Highway Hun-Dirt) now serves up rental cars. Every time I go to Home Depot, I see it and think, "I need a Gordita Supreme and a Chevy SUV." I saw another Taco Bell dressed as minor medical facility. Yikes.

The confusion I'm experiencing here is because of something called a "brand symbol." Brand symbols are visual manifestations of a company's brand identity. The Nike "swoosh," the "mustache" grill of a BMW or the distinct curved-brick windows of a 1970s Taco Bell. These buildings (at least visually) still "belong" to the Bell. They hold aesthetic equity within our minds. And even though they now rent cars, I don't think "Enterprise Car Rental" as much as I do "Nachos Bellgrande."

My favorite brand symbol mismatch is the old Denny's on North Port Washington that now houses a cosmetic surgery clinic. Sure, they painted it dark gray, but I wonder if you can order the Facelift Slam breakfast. Considering many of these old buildings were restaurants, the interior renovations must have been quite extreme. (I mean, you wouldn't want Courtney Gerrish doing a "Dirty Dining" segment in your doctor's office).

The renovators should pay the same "extreme" attention to the exterior as …

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