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A Man of Few Words - by Swan Morrison

Conversational Product Placement

Market research had indicated for some time that advertising was having a decreasing effect on product sales. Initially, marketing consultants reacted to this by an intensification of advertising. Billboards occupied sides of office blocks. TV commercial breaks became longer until advertisers began to resent the interruption to commercials caused by the programmes. Soon, a survey of 200 channels, selected at random world-wide, showed one to contain game shows twenty-four hours a day, one played repeats of the game shows on the previous channel and 198 contained nothing but advertising. Still the impact on consumers declined.

Next, companies turned to media placement. Children began to play computer games in which the objective of the hero was to locate and drink as many bottles of an unhealthy American cola as possible. James Bond battled against an evil band of environmentalists bent on destroying an innocent and wholesome multinational burger chain - finally saving burger restaurants for humanity. Still sales fell.

In despair, many advertising executives killed themselves, sometimes screaming slogans as they plummeted forty floors. However, ‘Suicide Advertising’, as it came to be known, was generally felt by the public to be in poor taste, as was ‘Hostage Advertising’. A new strategy was needed.

All research showed that word-of-mouth recommendation was most effective and so was born ‘Conversational Product Placement’. Individuals were sponsored to introduce advertising into everyday conversations. There was, however, one drawback. How were sponsors to monitor this?

I am a Conversational Product Placement Monitor. It is my job to investigate those who are sponsored, to ensure that ‘a designated advertising slogan is quoted at five minute intervals during each social conversation’.

Sometimes I ring: ‘I’m sorry, I seem to have dialled a wrong number.’

‘That’s OK, but before you hang up, can I suggest that if you are having trouble seeing the phone why not contact ‘Specs, the opticians who care’.’

Sometimes I engage my target in seemingly innocent face-to-face conversation. One woman I approached in a bar. One thing led to another, and she invited me to her room where we had sex all night and much of the following day. Not once, however, did she mention ‘Diostop, the gentle cure for diarrhoea’ or ‘Haemorrhoid-plus, the medication you can trust.’ Sadly, when I dressed to leave, I had to inform her that her sponsorship contract with a national chain of chemists would be terminated.

Much is now done via phone taps, and hidden surveillance equipment. Also, of course, many monitors have infiltrated jobs where they can routinely converse with the public: the police, telephone operators for the emergency services, the Samaritans and so forth. We take the line that there is no crime, fire or depression which is so serious that a few moments cannot be allocated to highlight ‘National-Midland, the bank you can rely upon’.

Sadly, even this approach is not reversing the retail decline, and I am regretfully forming the conclusion that the buying public are just plain cynical.