What happens when product placement creeps into Literature?
As the second speaker finished, the shareholders gave Ms. Rekaeps a polite round of applause. When she left the podium, she didn’t look at anyone as she sat in her chair. She took a quick sip of water and then fiddled with her napkin and stared intently at her glass.
Well-dressed company executives and investors resumed their whispered conversations at each of the tables around the room. They were speculating about the announcement that Mr. Grifford was going to make. They knew that once the preliminary speakers were finished, the statement was imminent. There were many nervous people in the room. Some of them were sweating. Others were visibly shaking.
It was time.
A tall thin man in a well-tailored suit stood and approached the podium. Ralph Erawdrah had a presence about him that demanded attention. As soon as he stood by the microphone, without saying a word, the quiet murmurings of the crowd ceased. He spoke with a slight accent, but his voice was clear as it resonated through the ballroom in which the Trespartes Company held all of its emergency meetings. He spoke deliberately and seemed to address each person.
“Thank you Ms. Corrigan. Gentlemen, ladies, it is my great pleasure to introduce a man who is almost single-handedly responsible for the success of this company. He was that man who has made Trespartes a household word and the man who had devoted his life to this company. I am speaking, of course, of our Chairman of the Board, Mr. Grifford.”
Another round of applause followed the brief introduction. The polite applause did little to conceal the obvious apprehension of the crowd.
A frail elderly man made his way slowly to the podium. He walked with great difficulty. He was beginning to look and feel his age. His hair, what little there was, was thin, gray, and grew out of the top of his balding head.
Many of the people gathered at the meeting believed that the old man should have stepped down years ago. Despite the pleadings of the other shareholder’s, his family, his doctor, and a dark-haired man known only as Ralph, he stubbornly refused to relinquish control of the company.
After an eternity, he made it to the podium and the last of the applause abated. He grabbed onto the podium for support. He braced himself and took a moment to gather his strength. It was possible to feel and see the long uneasy silence in the room.
Finally and with great difficulty, he began speaking. Surprisingly, his voice was clear and even a little too loud for the room.
“Gentleman, I realize that many of you would prefer if I released my hold on this company and simply sat back to enjoy the vast fortune I have amassed. I know that many of you wish I would step aside and turn the company over to Ralph.”
An audible and noticeable rumble went through the crowd. They could not hide their agreement.
“As you know our company had steadily been losing market share,” he paused long enough for the words to achieve their full impact. “And can anyone,” he continued, “tell me why we are not selling enough bird seed?”
The audience was stunned. The old man had finally lost it.
Mr. Pilken, who had never liked the old man, was the first to stand up. “Because we don’t sell birdseed,” he shouted from the center of the auditorium.
The audience, who had never liked Mr. Pilken, mocked and jeered him. Then they chanted, “Pilken is a puke-burger.” He quickly sat down.
The old man ignored the comment and continued. “Gentlemen, I have a study here that shows a strong correlation between bird owner’s and literacy.” He saw from the stunned looks on the faces of the people in the room, that he had confused most of them with the last comment, and the uneasy stares from the women in the room made him conscious of the way he was addressing his audience.
“My fellow board members and ladies, let me put it to you simply. People who own birds can read. They read a lot. According to the Johnson/Milford study published in some obscure publication that you never even heard of, over 25% of bird owners read at least three books a year. When surveyed directly, the people responded that paint rollers, no matter how sophisticated, are annoying to use. The best way to reach these people is to advertise in the books that they read. I know you have seen products featured in many of the major motion pictures. What I propose is that we extend the campaign into the literary market as well. It is a new avenue. We must change our approach if we are to survive in today’s market. Our company, which has been strong on the outrageous, must learn to be subtle. We can’t afford to use photographs of dead birds in our advertisements. We want our products and our slogans to become part of the fabric of the story. We do not want the product featured as the grisly murder weapon used by some psychopath to ruin the lives of unsuspecting Wall Street executives. To that end, Mr. Imbagu and I have drafted a set of guidelines to be used by the authors who wish compensation for promoting our product. Walter, would you kindly distribute the report.”
Walter Imbagu, a tall man in his late forties who had never had much use for cream cheese, obediently complied.
The group around the room was stunned. Every stockholder in the room had no doubt in their mind that the old man was completely out of his mind. Every person in the room knew what was coming.
Not one of them liked it.
Walter distributed copies of the proposal to the skeptical crowd. One by one, they each opened the enormous document with the picture of a dead finch on the cover with the familiar red circle with the line through it. The words, ‘No More’ were emblazoned under the picture. The cover page featured the new company slogan, ‘Trespartes – One part Nutrition and One Part Good Taste,’ along with copyright, confidentiality, and trademark information.
He directed everyone to turn to page 17, which had a sample of how the company might implement the new idea.
The large red ball, however, remained a mystery.
As the sun beat down on the ever-widening desert where the warm wind wilted the wilting willows, Maxwell was riding his bicycle in Cincinnati. So while the Queen might dine on quail, he was heading to the supermarket for a jar of peanut butter, a can of olives, and a bag of Trespartes bird seed. The early bird may catch the worm, but what bird wants to wake up to eat worms when they can have Trespartes anytime.
He checked his watch. It was almost .
It wasn’t going to be his day.
Even the most cynical of them could not dismiss the possibility that this idea just might work. Since the goal was to make money, the fact that none of them liked the idea wasn’t important. They just hoped the old man’s scheme would succeed.
After all, the company had not made money in over five years. They were three months away from corporate bankruptcy. What did they have to lose?