Fictions: The Advertising Imperative
From the one hundred kilometre altitude viewing platform of the Quito Space Elevator, Natalya Serov counted the hundreds of corporate logos spread like quilts across the Andes and the Amazon rainforest. Brands included MaxiCola, Conical Energy, MarsPlus, Jovian-Briggs, Europa Water, 8Quantum, LaPlasta Limited, France Inc. and many more of the Solar System’s wealthiest corporations. She was reminded of a sponsorship notice for a trade show convention, but one that used an entire country as its billboard.
“Impressive, isn’t it?”
Surprised that she was not alone, Natalya turned to the sales executive of Bottled Message Advertising as he joined her by the viewing glass. She noticed his neat mood-suit with an open collar shirt, his perfectly manicured stubble. He had the slim muscled physique of a yoga instructor. He was the kind of man she had lusted after as a university student, that still turned her on today. If this was a deliberate ploy, part of his sales pitch, he had done well.
“I guess those logos are impressive, Mister…?”
“Mr. Keller, Anton if you wish.” Suddenly he was at her opposite side. “BMA’s office is unconventional, I know, situated halfway between heaven and earth, but you have to admit the view does a lot of my selling for me.”
She nodded, not sure what to say. The scene in its perfect serene beauty felt like a dream, as if the logos had been displayed for her benefit alone.
Hands clasped behind his back, he smiled, admiring the vast landscape with her. “Once upon a time the only human-made object visible from space was the Great Wall of China. Not anymore. Today the biggest logos you can see are more than ten kilometres across.”
“That is impressive.”
“Ecuador thinks so. The rent alone has made it the richest country in Latin America.” He beckoned her to take a seat on the comfortable leather lounge that seemingly materialised from nowhere. A variety of drinks and nibbles waited. “Shall we?”
“Thank you.” Merlot, brie, oysters and olives: her favourite beverage and condiments. “Those logos, are they complex to put together?” The Quito Space Elevator was the busiest surface-to-orbit trade route in the Solar System. If her company logo were to be included in the mix, the potential exposure for her product was tremendous.
“They are indeed.” Keller was already seated. “The logos in the Amazon are a result of genetic mods to pigmentation in leaves of jungle canopy trees. Down there we can get colours, so they are more expensive. The logos in the Andes are restrictive, a combination of dark lichen that grows on snow and a white fungus that grows on rock. It turns the black to white and white to black as required, so monochrome only.”
“Still, impressive,” she said again.
Her company, NeoRice, had returned exceptional profits in the last year, which had made her one of the richest people on Earth. Her single product was in demand on seven continents, a genetically modified strain of rice that could be grown with ninety-five percent less water than its competitors. With Earth already conquered, she planned to take on the Solar System. Unfortunately that kind of expansion cost money.
“Is it really true, Mr. Keller, that BMA only specialises in unique advertising strategies? Having my logo down there with the rest seems like old news and not a pitch I would expect from you.”
Keller’s smile remained engaging. “Exactly right. I had no intention of even suggesting the idea.”
“Besides,” she spoke quickly, afraid that he might convince her to buy one anyway. “I would still be selling to the Earth market, which I don’t need to.”
“That is also correct.”
“So why am I here? What are you offering me for my money?”
“Ms. Serov, before we get to what we are offering you, let me first point out that the most successful advertising campaigns are always those that do something no one has ever done before. Something that will get everyone’s attention while attaching that uniqueness not only to your corporate identity, but to history itself.” He had poured two glasses of wine without her noticing, and now handed her one. She had trouble taking it from his grasp. “That’s the only product we sell at Bottle Message Advertising, unique marketing, because everything else is trivial in comparison. That’s why only companies of your stature can afford our price tag, because uniqueness has its price.”
“Wait, please.” She raised a hand. “I have to ask, before we go any further, were BMA responsible for the SETI scam?”
Keller laughed lightly. “You have to admit, MaxiCola’s alleged strategy made them the richest and best known brand in the food and beverage industry wherever humans have settled. Send a probe into deep space until it is so far away it might as well not exist, position it in front of a distant star system with known planets in its habitable zone, and then beam a coded message back to Earth. It was brilliant.”
“The reason for my question is: wasn’t the scheme a little bit despicable? Everyone believed it. Everyone thought that we’d finally made contact with an alien intelligence, until…”
“Until the message was decoded, and the MaxiCola logo became the most recognised brand in the Solar System. Yes, despicable perhaps, but boy, what publicity!”
“You still haven’t answered my question Mr. Keller. Was that one of your accounts, one of your ideas?”
Keller shrugged. “Even today MaxiCola denies that they were responsible, and it can’t be proved that they were. If we were involved we’d have to deny it too, wouldn’t we? But…”
“But that is the kind of unique advertising BMA can offer your company, Ms. Serov.”
Natalya shivered; he was as convincing as he was handsome. If this meeting went well, she was prepared to invest five years of company profits into BMA, provided Keller could sell her a campaign idea that was truly unique. She couldn’t allow impulsive feelings to get in the way of such an important decision.
“I understand your hesitation. Ms. Serov, entering into a contract with us is not something anyone would ever undertake lightly.”
Natalya tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear, then cleared her throat. “Mr. Keller, I am aware, that BMA was the mastermind behind the Jovian-Briggs campaign. Tell me a little bit more about that one. Convince me.”
“That one BMA will admit to. It was an excellent example of our unique trade-marked advertising solutions. Essentially we turned the red spot of Jupiter into the largest video screen in all of human creation. Jovian-Briggs adverts are seen by millions upon millions of people each year, but that is bread and butter work for us now.”
“No longer unique.”
“No, but our subsidiary companies do have plans to transform the entire surfaces of both Jupiter and Saturn into advertising space by the end of this decade. Uranus and Neptune will then follow.”
Natalya frowned. He seemed far away from her now, even though neither of them had moved. Despite two practiced decades of successful business negotiations behind her, this conversation felt beyond her control, and she wasn’t certain why.
“You think an advert on a gas giant is what my company needs?”
Keller laughed again. “It never hurts to advertise. But no, that’s not the pitch I want to give you today. It would be insulting to you if I did.”
“Well, yes, and no. Viral is highly successful. We created the concept with Conical Energy and their ‘Perception Campaign’.” He made quotation marks with his fingers. “Essentially it was a neural virus that blocked an infected person’s awareness of all logos and brand images belonging to Conical’s competitors. Something like eighty million people were infected before anyone really understood what was going on.”
“I can’t believe Conical weren’t sued.”
“Well, remember, the virus was attached to a competition that people willingly entered, and we can’t help it if no one reads the fine print. Still, even BMA will admit some minor negative impacts in that campaign. However, viral campaigns are much more effective these days. They are more readily accepted by the populous than they were even two years ago. Besides, people like having cool imaginary friends who are always with them to advise on what is fashionable. That was the LaPlasta virus, by the way, one of ours.”
Natalya touched her hair. “I’m not sure I want an advertising virus attached to my product. I mean, people still aren’t happy that every cat on the planet sings ‘Scrumpy Cat for dinner, please.’”
“Used to be upset, Ms. Serov, every person on the planet used to be upset. It’s like billboards and television advertising back in the Twentieth century; eventually people stop complaining and accept it as part of normal life. High school kids these days don’t even know that cats once meowed.”
“I was in London last week. I went for a walk in Hyde Park. Did you know that every time pigeons land together as a large group, they spell the words 8Quantum? All pigeons all over the world do that now.”
“Ms. Serov, may I be so bold as to point out that each example you have presented has been an exceptional campaign for each corporation involved, promoting them into market leader status across the entire Solar System. Each of those ideas was unique at the time, and if I understand you correctly, this is exactly the kind of market dominating solution you are looking for with NeoRice.”
He leant forward, serious now. “Did you know that the average person sees sixty-eight ads in the single minute it takes them to get out of bed in the morning and walk to the bathroom?”
“That sounds about right.”
“Well, there is so much noise out there these days that most advertising is ineffective. At BMA, we believe that the advertising imperative has always been and always will be to find new ways of getting noticed, now more than ever.” Suddenly he was up and about, standing by the viewing glass. “We thought the Twenty-First century was out of control; that was nothing. In the last ten years we’ve seen massive changes in the way companies promote themselves: ideas that will work for two to three years at most, before the next fad obscures them.”
“A good example.” Suddenly he was seated again, beaming at her aptness. “The AI is the most successful virtual actress and multimedia personality ever, but to ensure she remains the most recognised woman in the Solar System, Bloom Studios will pay any attractive woman ten thousand dollars if they are gene-sculpted to look and sound just like her. But now every other virtual star is doing the same thing, so the differentiator is lost.”
“Yes. You see them everywhere. Boring.”
“Another example: in the last five years the world’s largest corporations have made it mandatory for their staff to change their last name to their company name, and tattoo company logos on their faces. Why? Because we all like to look at each other much more than we like to look at adverts. Yet customer surveys already show us that consumers can’t recall which companies their friends work for, even when the logos are staring them in the face. And did you know it’s impossible for the average family to buy a car or a home anymore without offsetting crippling mortgages by selling advertising space on their own property? Yet the bottom is about to drop out of that market too, simply because there is too much advertising seen everywhere now. No company is making any return on their investments.”
Natalya shuddered. She had been bombarded by over a thousand adverts on her three hour journey from London to her office in Sydney. Mostly they had been eye-seeking spam lasers. Her sunglasses’ anti-advertising software had battled to edit most from her field of vision, but there were always a few that got through.
“You don’t have to convince me, Mr. Keller, that getting noticed in today’s world is almost impossible. That’s why I’m here after all. That’s why I’m willing to invest in BMA, assuming your pitch is all that you promised it to be.”
“Oh, it will be Ms. Serov, what we have planned for you is very unique indeed.”
“But I haven’t seen or heard anything new or unique yet.”
“If I may be so bold, you have seen and heard everything that is new and unique. And if you like what we’ve shown you, we can discuss a path forward tomorrow, when we first meet in BMA’s office.”
Natalya frowned. She wasn’t certain that she had heard Keller correctly. He seemed to be receding from her, as if slipping down a long and slippery tube.
“I’m in your office right now, Mr. Keller!” she yelled because he was so far away. “I’m waiting for your pitch.”
“Actually you’re not.” He smiled again even though he seemed to be in the next room. “At this very moment you are asleep, in your Sydney mansion, dreaming.”
Feeling giddy, she looked to distant Keller, then to the food and wine and realised she hadn’t tasted any of it even though she had tried to several times. She looked about the meeting room. It was all too pristine, too clear of advertising to be a true reflection of the state of the real world.
“This is a dream advertisement, Ms. Serov. You’ll wake up in a minute, but unlike a normal dream you’ll remember everything.”
“I’m really dreaming?”
“Yes, and if you like what we’ve done with our little dream pitch and you’re willing to invest with us, we’re willing for dreaming advertising to be uniquely attached to your brand, and then for history to remember it that way forever. Time to wake up, Ms. Serov. You don’t want to be late for your flight to Ecuador.” He smiled at her, somehow near at hand again, bending down over her. “I’ll see you tomorrow night… in your dreams.”
Copyright © David Conyers 2011
David Conyers is an Australian science fiction and horror author residing in Adelaide. With John Sunseri he is the co-author of the Lovecraftian spy thriller collection The Spiraling Worm and the author of the sequel novella The Eye of Infinity. He is the editor of the anthology Cthulhu’s Dark Cults, with Brian M. Sammons the editor of Cthulhu Unbound 3 and a contributing editor for Albedo One, Ireland’s longest running magazine of speculative fiction. David’s short fiction has appeared in various magazines including Jupiter, Book of Dark Wisdom, Midnight Echo, Innsmouth Free Press and Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine. He has also appeared in over a dozen anthologies including Monstrous, Cthulhu Unbound 2, Best New Tales of the Apocalypse, Horrors Beyond, 2008 Award Winning Australian Writing, Scenes from the Second Storey, Macabre and The Black Book of Horror. www.david-conyers.com