Life, chez nous, is going from bad to worse. The University of Berkhamsted has cancelled my study into the homing instincts of Bradford’s bitter drinkers. Darn those austerity cutbacks. My research plan was cunningly simple. Step one: I lure unsuspecting ‘ordinary folk’ with the promise of ten public pints of free ale at the real house. Or ten real pints of public ale at the free house. Or ten free pints of real ale at the public house. Yes, that last one sounds right. I get the terminology confused – you are more likely to find me in a wine bar than a pub. But I digress. Step two: once the unsuspecting quaffers are sufficiently inebriated, I slip a miniature radio tag into their pork scratchings. They swallow it down, usually without being able to tell the difference. Step three: come closing time, the combination of the little beacon in their belly and my GPS handset means I receive the perfect plot of their meandering route home.
When I sat down and calculated the value of this research to social planning, I was forced to conclude that the benefits were incalculable. Incalculable as in incalculably high, not infinitesimally small. More data on the nocturnal wandering of Britain’s pissed would greatly improve the future location of public urinals, kebab shops and golf course bunkers (which are potential death traps for those taking a short cut). What is more, this research was set to complete my triumvirate on the travails of the intoxicated traverser. Previous bug-scapades involved the lager drinkers of Pontypridd and the Chardonnay girls of Clacton-on-Sea. But, alas, the government’s plans to cut the number of visas for foreign students means that the University of Berkhamsted will see a precipitous drop in its income, and they rejected my research proposal as ‘frivolous’. How insulting. They also noted that I should have secured sponsorship from one or other maker of alcoholic beverages before I came to them. Ideally alcopops – they pay better and it is easier to arrange tie-in promotions at the student union bar. Hmmm. But, I suppose it is not all bad news. With fewer foreign students, the reduction in traffic cone theft and inter-racial gang violence will somewhat lighten the load on our overstretched local constabulary. But I digress again. Without the university’s grant, I was in deep doo-dah, and would find it a struggle to pay the fees at my gentlemen’s club. There was nothing else for it – I had to go up to the loft and tell my favourite clone, MaV-Eric, that I needed to double his rent…
Eric: [Climbing up into the loft] MaV-Eric! Are you here?
MaV-Eric: [Staring blankly at the screen of a laptop computer whilst lying front down on his bed. He is watching an anthology of Andy Gray’s most sexist comments on YouTube.] Yes. Yes, I am. Can’t you see I’m working?
Eric: Working? But it’s the weekend. Is it busy season at Perkins and Parker?
MaV-Eric: It is now. The boss, Claire, says a third of us are for the chop. There’s just not enough marketing work to justify keeping us all on the payroll. So I’m spending the weekend coming up with new marketing ideas to impress her.
Eric: That’s good. I need to increase your rent, so you’d better not lose your job.
Eric: I said that I need to increase your rent, so…
MaV-Eric: Yes, yes, I heard. How much do you need to raise my rent?
Eric: By no more than 110%.
MaV-Eric: Does that mean the rent might go up by a tenth?
Eric: Yes. But only after it goes up by a lot more first.
MaV-Eric: Why do you need to raise my rent?
Eric: It’s a long story, but basically there is not enough research into the ways people get lost once they are drunk.
MaV-Eric: Yeah, I can see why that might be a long story.
Eric: I’m sorry, but there’s no other way to pay the bills.
MaV-Eric: Why don’t you send one of the other clones out to work for a change? You made a whole bunch of them. But you only ever pick on me.
Eric: You’re the only one capable of holding down a job. The others are hopeless. Lim-Eric fancies himself a poet. Cube-Eric spends all his days planning film projects that never get made. Î½M-Eric gets lost in equations. col-Eric is too irascible. And ChiM-Eric is… well, he’s just impossible.
MaV-Eric: Okay, okay. I’ll pay more rent. But you’ve got to help me come up with some marketing ideas.
Eric: You want me to help you come up with marketing ideas? I’m not wacky enough to think of marketing ideas. You’re the wacky clone.
MaV-Eric: Hmmm. Two things. If I’m wacky, then wackiness must be in your genes. I’m your clone, after all. And do you ever read your research proposals? They’re so wacky that if you repeatedly whacked them with a whacking stick, whilst keeping tempo for Shakira as she sings ‘Waka Waka (This Time for Africa)’ over and over, and did so until both you and Shakira were totally whacked out, you still couldn’t make them any wackier.
Eric: [Speechless for a while] Okay. I’ll help with your marketing ideas. What have you got?
MaV-Eric: First off, variety packs of carbonated soft drinks.
Eric: Well, that’s a no-brainer. Of course they should make variety packs of fizzy pop. Why would anyone buy 24 cans of the same flavour of pop? Mix up loads of cans in the same multipack – a Coke, a Sprite, a Tango, a Lilt, even maybe a Vimto… variety is the spice of life. And the best part is that you can smuggle in a few cans of the stuff that no-one in their right mind would buy.
MaV-Eric: I’m pretty sure that nobody has ever tried Dandelion and Burdock. Somebody must have made a batch in the 1930’s and they’ve been left untouched on the supermarket shelves ever since.
Eric: That’s right. And Dr. Pepper. Have you ever tasted it? It’s enough to make a toilet bowl barf. It’d probably be good for getting it clean though.
MaV-Eric: Yeah – it’s got a powerful under the rim action. That’s why it’s approved by medical professionals.
Eric: But if people love variety, it does make you wonder why people stopped buying Sodastream.
MaV-Eric: For health reasons. It’s good exercise to carry a crate load of drinks cans from the supermarket. It helps burn off the calories from drinking lots of sugar water.
Eric: Okay, that’s one good idea. What’s next?
MaV-Eric: Sell bicycles that come with a dynamo-power mobile phone charger and a bluetooth headset fitted into a cycling helmet. Then people can talk to each other whilst they are safely riding around. And it’s good for the environment too.
Eric: Sorry mate, that’s a stinker of an idea. Freewheelin’ hippy types just want to ride side-by-side, blocking the road whilst they gab to each other about saving the whale. They simply don’t appreciate the pollution they cause by slowing my Range Rover down to a crawl as I wait for opportunities to overtake.
MaV-Eric: That’s a bit negative, isn’t it?
Eric: Maybe so, but I don’t want any excuse for pesky cyclists not to hear my horn. Beep, beep, get outta my way!
MaV-Eric: Okay, forget that idea then. If it was any good then the phone companies would be giving those chargers away for free, just to encourage people to make more calls. [Pauses] How about this for a promotional loyalty scheme – Starbucks or other coffee shops give you a thermos cup to keep, instead of wasting money on a paper cup each time you come in. To give people the incentive to remember to carry their cup, they run one of those ‘buy 10, get 1 free’ schemes, but instead of a loyalty card, they scan the code printed on the side of the cup.
Eric: It could work, but it’s a bit touchy-feely again. Did you ever see those cups with the pictures of women on the outside? Pour in a hot drink, and their clothes vanish. VoilÃ ! Naked ladies. Naked ladies and caffeine. Now that’s a combo guaranteed to get you up in the morning.
MaV-Eric: Do you really think there is a strong crossover opportunity for selling lattes and porno?
Eric: [Pauses] No. Not really. I just wanted a free cup with naked ladies on it.
MaV-Eric: Exactly. You’re not going to carry a cup like that around in public. You’re more likely to keep it for special private moments.
Eric: Okay, I like the bar coded loyalty cups. No need for naked ladies. What else have you got?
MaV-Eric: Prescription drugs – pills. Sell them in consistent-sized packets so when people need to take two kinds of pills at once, none are ever wasted. At the moment, they might get a prescription of six packs with five pills in, and four packs with seven pills in, so two get wasted at the end.
Eric: You’re being too hippy again. What size packet would be consistent for everyone? Five? Seven? Ten? The only consistent sized packet would be… [stops and thinks.]
MaV-Eric: One? But individual blister packets of one each would be too fiddly – and too small to be practical to handle and transport.
Eric: Yes – but not if you perforated them. Sell them on a long roll. The pharmacist then tears off the number required. He sells the exact amount the patient needs, of every type of pill the patient needs, each and every time. No waste.
MaV-Eric: It works for stamps! I knew you’d be good at this. Maybe you should take up a career in marketing too.
Eric: I wasn’t successful at selling my research project. If I knew how to market, I’d have done a better job with the things I actually want to market.
MaV-Eric: The mistake you made was selling something that gets paid for by the taxpayer. They can’t afford anything these days. Selling crap to ordinary people is the best bet – they always have money to waste.
Eric: That makes no sense at all.
MaV-Eric: I know, but I didn’t invent the system. Whoever did, they pulled off the greatest marketing trick of all…