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HOW ADVERTISING REALLY WORKS


New York City, October, 1975

It was a dreary Tuesday morning when "Bull" Curry's team of top advertising executives filed into the meeting room to discuss their latest project. Most had gotten little sleep the night before, having worked late the previous evening trying to come up with ideas of how to get people to buy Ford Pintos. Today, however, they would start fresh with something new and—at least according to "Bull"—never tried before.

The team sat around the meeting table eyeing the silk-shrouded product before them, wondering why it looked so much like some kind of bottle covered in a silk cloth. Bull didn't keep them wondering for long, though, and, with his one good hand (the other having been marred by a bowling mishap), he deftly pulled the shroud away to reveal...well...a bottle. The group looked at it with stunned indifference.

"We're selling a bottle?" asked Gus Weasermann, Bull's left-hand man.

"No. Not the bottle," Bull replied. "What's inside the bottle."

Gus and the team eyed the contents curiously. "Looks like water. What is it?"

"Water," Bull said with a sardonic smile pasted firmly on his ruddy, fat lips.

"Water?" Gus asked.

"That's right. Good 'ol H2O. Right out of the tab."

"You want us to sell water?"

"Of course not!" Bull bellowed. "No one will buy just plain ol' 'water.' We're selling bottled water! It's the next big thing!"

A deafening silence filled the room, the only sound that of thick cold drops of rain bouncing off the room's oversized panes of glass. It seemed to last for hours, but probably actually lasted eleven seconds or so.

"You want us to sell a product that people can get out of their taps practically free?" Cornelius Tuckerhouse—head of research and stuff—chimed in.

"Absolutely. People will love it!" Bull gushed.

"How much are you selling it for?" Bert Murmur, the guy in charge of finding out how much stuff costs, asked.

"We're starting cheap. Just a buck a bottle," Bull replied.

Bert sounded as though he had accidentally swallowed a marble for a moment. "A buck a bottle?" he asked between gasps. "For something that people can get for less than a penny out of their tap already? Impossible!"

"Difficult, I admit," Bull replied, "but not impossible. We just need to put our collective minds together and come up with somethin' snappy. Remember, we're the folks who talked people into buying pet rocks and voting for Nixon. We can sell anything!"

"But bottled water?" Gus—who apparently had rediscovered his voice at last—said. "Who's gonna buy water in a bottle?"

"Well, it is portable," Cornelius, his fearsome brain having kicked into overdrive, said. "People can take it with 'em wherever they go."

"I thought that's what they make canteens and thermoses for," Dirk Fry, the new guy who will probably be laid off by Christmas due to budget cuts, pointed out—to everyone's chagrin.

"Besides, there's no easy way to carry it," Gus added. "No straps or handles, and it's too big to fit in your pocket. Plus, it's heavy to boot."

"We could eventually go to plastic. I hear that's the next big thing," Cornelius said.

"It doesn't matter!" Gus retorted. "People simply aren't going to pay a buck for an eight ounce bottle of water! There's just no demand for such a thing!"

An eerie chill fell over the group as all heads turned to the end of the table. There, looking like a wizened old owl, sat Kermit Shirkcatcher, the oldest and, according to Guinness book of World Records, cleverest advertising exec in the world. No one was certain just how old Kermit was; rumor had it he had helped Lincoln win reelection, but that was unlikely. The only thing people were sure about, though, was that Kermit could always be counted upon to draw from the deep waters of experience and the cynical perspective that lived within him to come up with something.

The man simply smiled at the group knowingly, the way an arsonist might smile at a fireman on his way to his next conquest. "Gentlemen," he said in his raspy, owl-like voice (assuming owl's could talk, of course), "you're not thinking outside the bottle. Of course there's no demand for such an item. It's water, for God's sake! If there were, bottled water would have been around since Henry Ford invented the frisbee." (Kermit often made confusing statements like that just to see if anyone was listening.) "Your job is not to sell something to the public that they actually want or need, but to create the need and then have the product available to meet it!"

"Huh?" everyone said in almost perfect unison.

"This water is no different than what you can get out of your tap, right?" Kermit asked.

Bull nodded.

"Incorrect," Kermit corrected.

"Huh?" came the second unanimous response—again, well coordinated.

"It's much safer than tap water."

Bull shook his head. "No, it's not. It's the same stuff you get outta your tap, more or less. Meets all the same FDA requirements as regular tap water does and everything."

"Are you certain?" Kermit asked. "I mean, consider that your tap water comes from some giant water purification plant where employees put all sorts of who-knows-what into the water before pumping it through miles of rusty plumbing back into your house where it comes out your outdated, calcium encrusted faucet! And that doesn't even take into account what condition the stuff is in when it arrives at the plant. It's raw sewage, for Christ's sake! You're drinking nothing less than purified sewage water!"

The group looked stricken—precisely as Kermit intended. "But this stuff—look at it! It's in a shiny, clean bottle with keen graphics all over it. We can even put the word 'pure' on it somewhere or, better yet, 'spring water' or anything that makes it sound like it has bypassed the whole messy purification and pumping process. People will gladly spend a buck for such piece of mind."

Gus suddenly looked animated, as was his habit when he was animated. "Yeah, and we could have a picture of a big, busty woman leaning over and filling a bucket with water from a waterfall, just to give the impression the stuff doesn't come out of a pipe like everything else. Brilliant!"

"You know," Cornelius, his fearsome brain working even harder now, interjected, "maybe we could even convince people that tap water might make them sick!"

"I like the idea," Bull said, "but how could we do that?"

"Well, people get sick all the time, right? But what do they all have in common? What's the common denominator?"

"They finally get better later?" Gus tried.

"No! They all drink water directly from their sinks!" Cornelius replied.

"But might not people still get sick even if they only drink our bottled water?" Dirk Fry, the new guy who knew that he would probably be laid off by Christmas due to budget cuts and wanting to appear useful in a futile effort to save his job, pointed out. The rest of the team only glared at him for a moment, making him feel as small and insignificant as he actually was.

"People won't notice that if we do this right," Cornelius said. "They'll just assume something else besides the water made them sick."

"And, in fact, we might even convince them that they should drink 'healthier' bottle water until they feel better!" Gus enthused, clearly caught up in the growing enthusiasm.

"Now you're thinking," Bull practically shouted. "This stuff could one day be a big seller, with people actually going to grocery stores and buying cases of the stuff, all in the belief that somehow they will be healthier if they do!"

"We'll make 'em believe tap water is only good for the toilet bowl and to do laundry," Guy added, catching the excitement bug going around the table. "That'll further reinforce the notion that it's unhealthy to drink the stuff!"

"But what about all the empty bottles?" Dirk, knowing his prospects for the future were dimming rapidly, asked. "Won't that create even more trash?"

"What good does it do to have landfills if you don't have any trash to fill 'em up with?" Guy retorted. "The trash people will thank us!"

"Bravo!" Bull thundered. "My God, people, we're sitting on a goldmine here! I can see a time ten or twenty years down the road when consumers will spend billions of dollars a year on this stuff and leave half full bottles of it laying all over the place! It'll be a win-win-win-win situation! We win because we've convinced people to pay an exorbitant amount of money for something they can get practically free, the plastic bottle manufacturers win because they'll have to work overtime filling the need for more bottles, trash collectors will win 'cause they'll have more bottles to pick up, keeping them gainfully employed, and even the land-fill people will win because they'll have more trash to go into their land-fills! I just can't see a down-side to this!"

"Great!" Gus replied. "Now we just need to come up with a name for the stuff! Something that'll make people forget they're getting screwed every time they plunk a dollar down for a bottle of the stuff."

"How about something like Purity or Virgin Water?" Cornelius volunteered.

"That sounds like it's only for people who never have sex," Gus countered.

"What if we stress the health aspect?" Cornelius tried again. "Somethin' like Vitawater or Liquihealth?"

"Might get us in trouble with the feds," Bull pointed out. "It's still just ordinary water, after all. We need something catchy. Something classy!"

"How about some foreign-sounding name?" Cornelius tried once more, his brain whirring relentlessly inside his skull like split peas inside a blender. "Like gute wasser! That's German for good water!"

"German? Are you crazy?" Guy asked unnecessarily. "Nobodies' gonna drink anything that sounds like it's something you'd use to fuel a panzer tank!"

A single word cut through the haze of battle like a knife through a jellyfish.

"French."

All eyes turned towards Kermit.

"Everybody thinks French stuff is classy. Hell, even the term for sewage is eaux d'égout. Does that sound classy or what?" Kermit said.

All heads nodded as one—as though they were connected to the same fishing pole.

"Any ideas, people?" Bull asked.

A lone, mousy voice broke the silence from somewhere at the back of the room. It was Dirk, looking frightened and fatalistic.

"Perrier?" said Dirk.

"What's a perrier?" asked Bull.

"I dunno. I just sounds like a cool French word. And it sorta sounds like purity. Sorta. Maybe."

Another deafening silence (an oxymoron if ever there was one) filled the room while the group waited for Kermit to render his judgment.

"I like it," said Kermit at last. "The kid's got talent."

And that's how Dirk Fry started down to road to becoming the advertising legend he is today.



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