Times are hard. Really hard. I lost my chauffeur; apparently he can make more money back in his old job as Head of Obstetrics at Kraków General Infirmary. My housekeeper murmurs about never having time to work on her Uzbek translation of The Great Gatsby and my landscape gardener hints he will take a job conducting the Sofia Philharmonic unless I give him a pay rise. Nine of my ten favourite grant-making government quangos have closed. As a consequence, I was fearing that I might have to take a proper job when my academic bursary runs out in a few months. The Cultural Studies Department at Southampton Solent University is paying me to research why people find Lenny Henry funny. I do not imagine they will extend the bursary again; it has been ten years now, and I am still no closer to finding an answer. I needed money and there was nothing else for it. I had to call on the initiative and imagination of my favourite clone, MaV-Eric. So I climbed up the loft ladder and sought him out…
Eric: Hell-ooohhh? MaV-Eric, what are you up to?
MaV-Eric: I’m designing a portable refrigeration unit powered by solar cells.
Eric: That’s brilliant! For use in Africa, right? So doctors can keep their medicines cool.
MaV-Eric: I was thinking more of picnickers at Glyndebourne and places like that. [Grabs a working model to demonstrate.] Look – this unit is exactly the right shape and volume to take a 500ml tub of Häagen-Dazs. And this one is for a magnum…
Eric: …looks a bit big for a choc-ice on a stick…
MaV-Eric: … of champagne, you silly.
Eric: Well, that’s great. Do you have any orders?
MaV-Eric: No. I need some seed capital to make some more prototypes first.
Eric: Well don’t look at me. Actually, I came up here because I was hoping you’d start giving me some money for a change.
MaV-Eric: Oh, it’s like that, is it? First you bring me into this cruel world, then you lock me in the attic like some demented relative you’re ashamed of, then you throw me out to fend for myself.
Eric: I’m not throwing you out. I want you to come back and pay rent.
MaV-Eric: Alright. But I’ve spent my entire life stuck in this loft, isolated from the outside world, with no practical experience of how to do anything, no sense of priorities and spending my days making up peculiar fantasies that bear no relationship to truth or reality. What kind of business needs people like me?
MaV-Eric: Great! When do I start?
I was heartened by MaV-Eric’s enthusiasm, and immediately called my old school chum Brendan ‘Nosey’ Parker, who is the sleeping partner in a successful market research firm based in central London. Parker said he was glad to help, but first MaV-Eric would have to be interviewed by his very-wide-awake partner, a Ms. Claire Z. Perkins…
[MaV-Eric bursts into the pristine reception of Perkins and Parker, out of breath and looking dishevelled.]
MaV-Eric: I’m so sorry that I’m late. My train was delayed.
Receptionist: May I help you, sir? Do you have an appointment?
MaV-Eric: Erm, yes [straightens himself up] My name’s MaV-Eric. I’m here to see Mrs. Perkins.
Receptionist: [Flicks through her notes] Yes, you are late, aren’t you? Your interview was scheduled three hours ago. And it’s Ms. Perkins, not Mrs. Perkins.
MaV-Eric: Oh, I can explain. I was on a very long train.
Receptionist: That makes no sense. Why should the train be delayed by three hours just because it is long?
MaV-Eric: Because it was the wrong train. The train I wanted was much shorter.
Receptionist: [Sneering] And something tells me you’ve had a wasted journey. [She gestures at the comfy chairs in the reception area.] Take a seat.
Receptionist: I beg your pardon?
MaV-Eric: Where should I take it?
Receptionist: Nowhere. It was a figure of speech. Now, if you don’t mind, please stand in the corner, facing the wall, and try not to make any noise.
[MaV-Eric does exactly as he is told, standing silently in the corner.]
[Claire Perkins walks in, wearing a crisp white blouse, dark skirt and knee-length leather boots. She is carrying a large envelope.]
Perkins: Stacey, have this Fed Ex’d to Hong Kong [she hands the envelope to the receptionist and turns to leave…]
Receiptionist: Your 11.30 has finally arrived [points at MaV-Eric].
Perkins: [Walks over to MaV-Eric] We didn’t think you’d show. Come with me.
[Perkins briskly walks away, taking long, confident strides in her boots. MaV-Eric hurries to catch-up. They walk across an open plan office which is strangely empty, towards a glass-walled committee room at the far end. In the room, a dozen twenty- and thirty-somethings sit patiently and quietly, dressed in casual designer wear. Behind Perkins’ back, MaV-Eric opens his mouth as if to speak…]
Perkins: [Lifts her hand alongside the side of her face, as if it signal stop. Without breaking stride or turning around she says…] No talk. Just sit at the back and be a good boy whilst we have this meeting. But pay attention because I’ll ask you questions later. I want to test your attention span.
[She arrives at the committee room door, and turns to grab the handle and face back towards MaV-Eric.]
Perkins: I can’t abide people who can’t concentrate. Understand?
[MaV-Eric nods. She holds the door open and he scurries through, looking for a chair at the back of the room. Perkins stands at the front of the room and takes charge.]
Perkins: Well, I suppose we’ve all been pretty complacent since we won the Tesco Value Highland Spring Water contract. Me included. But we can’t go on resting on our laurels. Have you seen this report? Let me read from it:
“Since the invention of the telephone, an alert or ‘ring‐back’ tone has been played to the calling party when calls are placed. This continues while the caller waits for the call to be answered. The typical sound of a ring‐back tone is a staccato or steady tone, letting the caller know that the call is being connected. During this time the caller is typically alert and silent waiting for the call to be answered. In fact, it is arguably one of the few times in our modern and hectic lives when we provide our undivided attention to one task. A ring‐back tone (“RBT”) is idle time with a captive audience (the inbound caller), and since the early 2000’s has been repurposed by many mobile operators for music and other kinds of audio entertainment content. Marketing and advertising messages can be distributed through RBT and the first several of these ‘Ad‐RBT’ services launched in 2008 in North America, Europe, and Asia. Ad‐RBT represents one of the most compelling and scalable new media platforms in recent history.”
[Perkins slams the report down on the end of the committee table.]
Perkins: So what do you all have to say about that?
Fattish black bloke wearing a khaki cardigan near the front: We’re very sorry.
Perkins: Good answer. So you should be. I pay you people to find new ways to ensure advertising is crammed into every waking moment of the lives of every living person, whether they like it or not. And for not one, but two years we’ve been sleepwalking whilst our competitors pipe adverts to people whilst they wait to book a table for dinner, when they call to make a dentist’s appointment, even whilst they wait to complain about the poor quality of their phone service. Millions of hours of captive advertising time, and we’ve not been exploiting it! We’re behind, people. We’re behind and I don’t want to be behind. [She points at her bottom.] I want to be ahead. [She points at her head]. Ideas should come from here [points at her head] and not from here [points at her bottom]. So give me ideas and give me them fast. I’m looking to you – my creative team – to generate some modest proposals. We need new ways to fill people’s lives with more advertising. [Clicks her fingers impatiently.] Come on!
Fattish bloke: Advertising messages cut into thin strips so it can be stuck and seen on the staircases of public buildings.
Perkins: Been done before.
Mousy woman: Billboards that rotate so that you get three messages instead of just one.
Perkins: Old hat.
Fattish bloke: Paint the underbellies of passenger jets.
Perkins: You need to look up once in a while. Another idea that’s been done already.
Tall nerd: Solar powered advertising on the side of street bins. We give them to the council for free but keep the rights to change the ads…
Perkins: [Angry] Don’t you watch Dragon’s Den?
[There is a long silence as the junior execs look around at each other and are unable to think of what to say.]
Perkins: You’re all pathetic. All bottom feeders. Or bottom talkers. One or the other [sighs]. Hey, you at the back [points at MaV-Eric]. Are you paying attention? Are you listening to the drivel these nincompoops are coming out with?
MaV-Eric: Yes, yes I am. May I make some suggestions?
Perkins: [Laughs] Why not? I don’t see how you could do any worse.
MaV-Eric: String in alphabetti spaghetti.
Perkins: Excuse me?
MaV-Eric: Put edible string in alphabetti spaghetti. String the letters together in a specific order. That way they can be used to spell out messages like “drink Coke” or “eat at Subway”.
Perkins: Hmmm… interesting.
MaV-Eric: Glow in the dark messages on clothes people wear at nightclubs. When they go out dancing, the UV light will reveal the advertising messages on the backs of their shirts and jackets.
Perkins: You might be on to something.
MaV-Eric: Adverts on ice lolly sticks. Instead of some terrible old joke, give a recommendation for some sweets or a toy that kids might like.
Perkins: Go on.
MaV-Eric: Sponsored hotel ceilings.
MaV-Eric: So when you wake, the first thing you see is the advertising message on the ceiling.
Perkins: I like it.
MaV-Eric: Sponsored pillow cases.
Perkins: In case you sleep face down.
Perkins: What else?
MaV-Eric: The automated voices that tell you the name of the next stop on public transport – also have them say: “this message was brought to you by…” at the end.
Perkins: That might work.
MaV-Eric: Wine glasses in restaurants. When you finish your drink, you discover the advert written in the bottom of the glass. Something like: “why not order another bottle?” or “you’re drunk, better call this number for a cab to take you home”.
Perkins: That would work.
MaV-Eric: Sponsored Blackpool Rock. Instead of reading ‘Blackpool’ it reads ‘Eat at Nando’s’ instead. Anyone who buys the rock gets the price reimbursed when they order a meal from Nando’s.
Perkins: Niche, but I like it.
MaV-Eric: School uniforms. Just like football shirts, they should boast a sponsor.
Perkins: That’s a potentially huge market.
MaV-Eric: Genetically modified butterflies. Change the wing markings to carry logos, like the golden arches of McDonald’s or the Nike swoosh.
Perkins: I could imagine it might be a while before we’ve perfected that technique, but like you say, some big businesses might be interested in investing in that idea. Do go on.
MaV-Eric: Pizza toppings. Get a five percent discount from Domino’s if you let them arrange the pepperoni to spell out the name of a TV show you might want to watch whilst eating your pizza.
Perkins: I like the way that reverses the cross-marketing flow.
Perkins: Excuse me?
MaV-Eric: You only get to read the message when they’ve been unrolled, so to speak.
Perkins: You’d need to keep the message short, just in case.
MaV-Eric: Pre-trained budgerigars. They come cheaper from the pet shop because they’re already trained to repeat ten advertising slogans.
Perkins: Talking birds – an idea that definitely has some potential. Anything else?
MaV-Eric: Just one more idea: tattoos.
Perkins: Oh, I don’t think that’s such a good idea. People will tend to cover up and then you would never see the marketing message, unless you tattooed the message on somebody’s face, and some might find that off-putting…
MaV-Eric: No, you don’t understand. I meant tattooing the inside of people’s eyelids so they see the advert whenever they close their eyes.
Perkins: I think we can safely say that you’ve got the job.
That was how, thanks to MaV-Eric and his genius for advertising, my money worries were all solved. Though I must admit I find that the tattoos on my eyelids get quite itchy…