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Monday, November 20, 2000
By Paul Ford
Selling shoes through violence, and death.
The director pointed to a hanging whiteboard where "Consumer Power Footwear - 2001" was markered in a masculine hand.
“Power is our brand message through 2001. I have sign-on all the way up.”
The employees nodded together. The director continued, “Which comes out again and again - people, regular people, the mom and pop middle demographic, barbecuers, state-school graduates, they're feeling like they have no power. Not enough.” Plastic-covered wire-bound notebooks were scattered throughout the room, with “The Dynamics of Consumer Power Footwear” burnt on each, in gold leaf. “Disassociated from the political process. Removed from financial control. Both are working and trying to make ends meet. Can't get good health insurance. Parents dying of cancer, uncontrollable, can't be helped. So.”
Slowly, he erased the whiteboard and wrote, “methods of empowerment” on the board, and he wrote two words below that: “OUR PRODUCTS.”
“Many of you have good ideas,” he said. “I like your idea, Tom, about sponsoring local, civic debates between school board members and suchlike. But will it sell our product? And Margaret, you did some good work, too, but...”
The walls of the conference room were translucent glass. Pointed lamps hung from tracks above them; a hanging screen dominated the front wall; 12 white faces poised around the aluminum table, the scrubbed table reflecting each face as a blurry orange circle.
“But they hired us to sell shoes, so I'll tell you what I want. I want to go deep. I want to show real power.” Pens began scratching. “Bring up a jungle, monkeys, parrots, undergrowth. Show us the jungle; show us guerrillas running through low brush, a crack team, in camouflage, well-trained, armed, faces painted.”
He went on, “bring up violent music, angry music. Like that shit the designers listen to.” Quiet chuckles from edges of the room, and a knowing grin from the senior art director.
“What then? What comes next?” said a junior strategist, his chin glowing in the light reflected from the table, his hands out of sight.
“Show us the sneakers, the mud splashing as they run. Pan down, with a jerky camera. Catch the logo--”
(All around the table they cried “swoosh!”)
“--the logo, and stay there for a few seconds - too long - and then. Show the guerrillas entering a village and - but wait - now go to a montage, 1 second for a frame. Show them setting fire to the huts, running through children with bayonets. Show them raping the women and killing their husbands, 8-10 shots of absolute carnage. The sound of helicopters, screaming....”
His voice trailed into a baritone whisper. The faces were all turned to him; they waited.
“Cut to the black screen and show the logo--”
(Again, all of them, but now low, incantory: “swoosh!”)
“And bring in one word below the logo, in white.” He leaned forward, moved his arms further forward over the table. “One word.” He took a breath, high on drama, lungs filling with electric light and the scents of their clothes, and wrinkled his eyes like a professor. He smiled and raised his arms. On cue, they all cried out: “Power.”