What type of ad experience would you like with your story? Would you like your biases confirmed? Would you like to be dazzled by spectacle? Or would you like to be titillated?
The older guy in the elevator eyed the kid’s portfolio–the large black rectangle zipped up around the edges, sweat leaking down the handles where he was clutching it.
“You making a presentation on 19?” he asked, sweeping his eyes from the portfolio to the elevator’s panel of buttons.
“Yeah, uh, yes. Mitchell and…”
“Stanley, I know.” The man finished his sentence. “What’s the pitch?”
A single bead of sweat forged a river down the front of the rectangle, eddying around the pebbled surface.
“Grap… like mountain climbing?”
“The f-fruit. Apples that taste like grapes.”
“Somebody did that already.” The older man waved a dismissive hand.
“It was a dying account, yeah. Yes. But they’re making a comeback.” The kid tapped on the portfolio, feigning confidence. The bead of sweat hit the floor.
“What’s your angle, kid?”
The elevator buoyed to a stop and the bubble-shaped light dinged Nineteen! The doors eased apart. The kid swung a leg out the door, saying over his shoulder:
Your program will resume in :25…
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The conference room itself was unintimidating, stupid hotel room art hanging above a yellowing coffee maker on a table ringed with stains. The big table was actually three tables pushed together with a single speaker phone sitting in the middle. The projector in the ceiling was visibly unplugged.
But the men seated around one end of the table, opposite the kid were everything the room was not. There were three of them. Dark suits, unimpressed looks.
There was an introduction, a round of clammy handshakes. The kid set his easel up quickly, deftly.
“Gentlemen,” he began, “no one makes commercials for fruit.” He threw his first panel up on the easel. “And I have no intention of doing that.”
The drawing–digitally cleaned and colored–was a classroom scene. The teacher, back to the viewer, wearing a silk blouse tucked into a pencil skirt, the curve of her ass accentuated by her wrist, perched on the small of her back, hand cocked out and holding an apple. A single, perfect bite taken out. In quotes running over her shoulders: “Johnny, see me after class…” And a Grapples logo at the bottom.
One suit hummed thoughtfully, one leaned back in his chair. The kid took this as a cue, placing the second panel up. The third suit leaned forward, elbows on the table.
“What the hell kid?”
This program is brought to you in part by…
Coming soon, from the makers of Bridesmaids and Human Centepede II (Full Sequence) comes the story of… a guy… played by Adrian Brody. And… another guy. Played by Tobey MacGuire… No, wait not Spiderman, no, who’s the guy from Brokeback? Anyway… That guy. This Thanksgiving, Adrian Brody and … Jake Gyllenhaal! …Make out.
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The picture was a near-copy of the cover of the Rolling Stones’ album Sticky Fingers. The crotch area of a man in tight blue jeans. Only the outline of Jagger’s cock was replaced by the bulge of what was presumably meant to be a Grapple. The Grapples logo done like a red stamp just below the beltline. The suit that had spoken up continued.
“So this is like Grapple balls?”
“I liked the teacher’s ass;” the first suit said, “I don’t know about people associating our products with Jagger’s scrotum.”
“Yeah, where are you going with this one, kid?” the third suit asked. The kid fought his instinct to shift his weight, standing his ground.
“Well, the Stones album cover is an established sex symbol, mostly by the female demographic. And women who were Stones fans when they were kids are the moms buying groceries now.”
“You think that moms are gonna stick Mick Jagger’s balls in their kid’s lunchbox?” When the kid didn’t reply, the suit did for him. “I don’t think so.”
We’ll return after this brief message:
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“What else ya got kid?”
The third panel goes up on the easel. The ball-busting suit leans forward.
“Now this I like.”
The tableau was rendered in blacks, purples, reds, and in the simple shorthand of an old Penguin paperback cover. From straight on there is a woman, clad in a bra, leaning back on her elbows. A wide white half circle indicates a smiling mouth. In between her spread-open legs, there is a red trapezoid perched on slender neck and shoulders–the back of a woman’s head. The redhead’s arm is up, elbow cocked, gently tipping a bear-shaped bottle of honey onto the smiling woman’s stomach and out of sight.
The copy, in a friendly diner menu script read: “Two tastes that were never meant to go together? Try telling THEM that.”
“Kid,” the suit said, “now we’re sellin’ apples.”
The other two were not as convinced.
“A minute ago, you wanna teabag mothers with ‘em, now we’ve got dykes eating honey.”
“Yeah, forgive me if I’m not making the connection. Who is this ad even for?” The kid was hoping they’d ask.
“You stick this ad in next month’s Maxim, by next semester there’s a bowl of Grapples in every dorm room in America.” Looks were being exchanged at the heavy end of the table. “Are you guys married to the name ‘Grapple’?” The middle suit’s eyebrows nearly collided with one another and he began to stand. The suit to his left put a firm hand on his chest and shook his head. “Just asking” the kid said, hands up, defensively.
“I have to ask,” the third piped up, “and I mean, these are decent sketches, but why are we using sex to sell apples?” The other two suits looked at their colleague, at first like he was nuts, then turned to the kid when they realized they were wondering the same thing. The kid tried to hide his urge to smile.
“These ads aren’t meant to sell anything. These ads are designed to buy something: lust.” He paused to make sure he had their attention. Three suits, eyes fixed squarely on him, straining to jump a move ahead. “Short of writing a pop song, it’s the easiest way to invade a person’s mind. You show a guy two chicks blowin’ each other–you show a woman Mick Jagger’s cock bulge–you show a kid his hot teacher’s ass, and you gentlemen just bought prime real estate in the minds of an entire family. We’re not selling apples that taste like grapes. We’re buying up stock in erections. Trust me, you buy their lust, you buy their loyalty–because then they’re gonna want you to put out. And that is when you show them a bright, red, juicy fuckin’ Grapple…”
With that, he pulled out one last panel, stood it on the table in front of him, folding his arms on the top of it and squaring his shoulders. The image was simple… a bright, red, juicy fuckin’ Grapple. Red as a sports car, pebbled with water drops, It sat on a black table, reflecting the curvature on the bottom. It glinted under bright studio lights.
“That is the sexiest thing I’ve ever seen” one suit said quietly.
“Exactly what we’re going for.”
“I can leave this picture here if you want.” With that, whatever was in the air dissipated.
“Heh, no, that’s alright.” The suits sat back in their chairs. “Kid, can you give us the room?”
The hall was filled with the clattering of keyboards and telephone chatter. Somewhere, copies were being run off, the five tray behemoth spitting through reams of 20 pound white Georgia Pacific, collating and stapling, collating and stapling. Women–young women in button downs, middle-aged women in orthopedic shoes–paced around with a dull sense of purpose. Fluorescent lights set into a watermarked particle board ceiling buzzed and blinked overhead. Cubicle walls wobbled ever so slightly as the women walked past them, the yellowing comic strips pinned to them gently swaying like the flags of a retreating nation. The receptionist was taking her lunch. A twenty-something with brown, mousy hair and a charcoal cardigan. Between clicks of the mouse, checking email and refreshing her Facebook feed, she took bites out of an apple.
This story was originally written for an event thrown by Hyde Atlanta themed around the Seven Deadly Sins.