I never assumed marketing a car with an
exploding fuel tank would cause so many problems. As a CEO I felt it would
benefit the American consumer, given the adventurous nature of our
When we first introduced the Nova it
instantly became the hottest sports car in its class. Our market share
grew so rapidly the major automakers trembled. In fact, they even
considered filing an anti-trust suit with the Justice Department.
Our success centered on the brilliant
advertising campaign by my lawyer and vice-president of consumer
research/propaganda, William Goebbels. No relation to the Nazi. (At least
I hope not.) Together we created a series of commercials that appealed to
the thrill-seeking nature of our 16-40 target audience.
We showed the Nova driving through
rain-forests, baseball stadiums, county-fairs, with loud irrational music
in the background. The sight of the sleek panther structured framework,
combined with the glaring, lacquer colored paint, mesmerized the consumer.
In one year we had half the market.
Then someone discovered a very slight
problem. According to our chief engineer, due to a design flaw, up to 15%
of the fuel tanks had the potential to spontaneously explode.
The good news was that I finally knew
what I would buy my mother-in-law for her birthday.
I called an emergency meeting to
determine the course of action. Along with Goebbels and all top
executives, I called in an array of accountants accompanied by their
assistants. They punched away on their hand held calculators. We performed
one of the most highly regarded practices in the business community, the
With our razor keen intellects we
estimated the cost of all expenses incurred in not recalling the Nova.
This included lawsuits, replacement vehicles, refunds, etc. We juxtaposed
them with the cost of recalling the vehicles.
After 23 million key strokes we reached
a decisive conclusion. The price of recalling would be approximately
$14.52 per vehicle; the cost of leaving the vehicle on the road came to
$14.51. A clear outcome.
We would not recall the Nova. A few
un-patriotic executives tried objecting, but my decision was final. Before
they left I said, “You can’t argue with numbers!”
Later one of our research engineers was
still furious about my decision. He called me up and said, “Mr. Grayson,
our research shows that the temperature in one of those burning vehicles
could reach up to a million degrees!” I simply responded, “Yeah, but
fortunately it’s a dry heat. Now go back to work or your fired!”
My trusted adviser Goebbels walked over
to me and stated that my firm decisiveness reminded him of a boss one of
his late relatives worked for in Germany during the 1940’s.
Despite the flattering comparison,
I’ve always been a man way too modest to accept praise. I smiled at him,
stating, “It’s all about serving the customer.”
Now we would’ve had a fairy tale
ending except for one problem. Over the last twenty years, there emerged
an organization that replaced the unions as the most painful thorn in the
side of corporate management: the consumer advocates. In the most
irresponsible manner they began to publicize every explosion from the
Nova. The media frenzy created such bad publicity, we noticed a slump in
The most antagonistic of these
advocates was the lawyer John C. Rambler, a man whose reputation for
ruining the image of companies surpassed Ralph Nader. Rambler had a
special vendetta against my corporation ever since one of our defective
air bags prematurely ejected, giving his roving pit bull a black eye. So
he quickly jumped on this opportunity.
For the first time I began to doubt our
strategy. In the cost benefit analysis we never calculated the price of
bad publicity. My professors at Harvard Business School never taught us
how to calculate the monetary damage of showing an exploding vehicle on
the five o’clock news. They often referred us to an ethics class when
the question came up.
I felt my confidence wavering. There
seemed to be no alternative, but to recall the Novas. Then my trusted
adviser Goebbels gave some invaluable insight, which attested to his
unparalleled knowledge of the consumer mind.
Instead of wasting billions on a recall
and quality improvements, we could instead invest more into advertising to
offset this unwarranted publicity. Goebbels had a Phd in psychology; he
explained his study of our American culture showed the average individual
had an inclination towards reckless experiences.
Sitting back in my suede leather chair,
he argued that the target consumer had a sub-conscious desire to take
risks. “Observe the violence you see on television, Mr. Grayson,” he
stated. Taking a remote control, he clicked some slides onto the
projection screen. I saw people sky diving, drive by shootings, white
water rafting, and posters of action adventure movies, juxtaposed with a
human brain in the background.
“The average customer in our target
segment doesn’t really care about quality. They want image and
glamour,” he remarked, taking off his 14k gold rimmed glasses. “Wait a
minute. Are you saying that the consumer will subordinate safety in order
to improve their image?” I questioned. “Precisely. We can’t compete
with the Japanese and Germans in quality, but instead we should give the
people what they really desire. Adventure!”
It hit me like a divine revelation. I
finally understood the mind of this marketing genius. We could maintain
our sales volume despite the efforts of these consumer advocates. It’s
in the nature of our society to seek out image in a car before safety. In
fact, subconsciously, the risk of owning an American car that may explode
is enticing to our customers because of the subliminal patriotic
implications. Why would an American buy a Nova opposed to a better built
German or Japanese car? Because they know in the back of their minds it
symbolizes why we’re such a great country. It reminds us why we beat
them during World War II, which is that we’re superior to them at
building things that can explode.
Once again it brought us back to the
cost benefit analysis I learned at Harvard. The consumer would be willing
to put up with a certain amount of “cost” (The danger of an
explosion.), if the “benefit” (The idea of driving a car, which would
make them feel good about themselves.) was greater than that “cost.”
We quickly picked up our cell-phones,
calling all executives to stop plans for a recall. Instead we held a
meeting to design an advertising campaign that required three times the
annual budget, that would describe the Nova as the car for the adventure
seeker. This amount of saturation into the public mind would offset the
negative publicity of Mr. Rambler and the consumer advocates.
Despite reports of explosions, and
expenses from product lawsuits, our sales rebounded, increasing our profit
margins. In fact things were so positive we drafted a design for a new
vehicle that had a fuel tank four times the normal size planted on the
front fender; called the Supernova.
Our nemesis continued to counterattack
with ads of his own, but we simply had more funds. We would have easily
won this conflict, except for an incredible phenomena. Due to the unique
frame work of the Nova, the bursting flames would often interact with the
graphical wire design creating unusual patterns of fire.
Some observers testified that the fire
from the explosions resembled the pattern of an Indian chief, another
reported the image of Frank Sinatra, and one student from Berkeley thought
he saw a pizza with extra anchovies.
All these visions combined were
harmless compared to a pattern that often occurred during a collision.
During such an event the flames would resemble a fist with the
middle-index finger pointing out.
This event turned into disaster when
Rambler made a commercial from film footage of one explosion. I sat aghast
in my 42 room mansion as I watched his political ad on my wide-screen
television. There on the screen I saw a recorded explosion of the flames
coalescing into a middle-finger. In the background the voice of Mr.
Rambler said, “This is what CEO Grayson thinks of consumer safety.”
I ran out of my mansion. In a patriotic
fervor I jumped into my 98 Mercedes, and raced downtown to our corporate
building. I entered the public relations department and saw all 85
employees running about in a state of panic.
The blow by Rambler was an unseen
masterstroke. In a daring maneuver he erased all the emotion based
conditioning of our advertising.
The reason? He countered with the one
image that more than any other spoke to the heart and mind of American
society: the middle finger.
In a few months our market share
dropped 60%. We tried all kinds of promotional enticements like offering a
case of #10 sun block with every car, or a hat with a very large brim.
It came to no avail. According to
Goebbels the only way we could ever turn the tide of lagging sales was to
discredit the source of the malicious attack. Mr. Rambler was in the
middle of a large liability suit against the Nova. For the past several
months he had been boldly guaranteeing a victory in the news media. If we
could defeat him in this high-profile case, we could strike at his
credibility, and win back our market share.
There remained one problem. The trial,
already in its later stages, according to our chief-lawyer Goebbels, had
gone terribly wrong. Every scientific expert testified to the explosive
nature of the fuel tanks.
I began pacing in my office with my
diamond studded walking stick. Then Goebbels walked in with his bent
vulture shaped frame, carrying a 200 page profile of the jurists. He
proclaimed the report showed the jury had a strong inclination to be
swayed by image and theatrical presentations.
Placing the report on my desk he said,
“Half of these jurors own SUV’s. And best of all most of them once had
cosmetic surgery.” Even more encouraging was his study on the presiding
Judge Blackmon. Despite having a rough exterior, he once had his balding
head refurbished with implants.
Our scheme was basic, we would invite
the jury to a local racetrack to testify to the safe nature of the Nova.
The demonstration would be regulated by the Transportation Commission, who
would allow the plaintiffs to choose the vehicle from our factory. What
they didn’t know is Goebbels had several paid contacts in the department
that would allow us to gain access to the car a day before, to replace the
fuel tank. Before Goebbels left my office to implement the plan, I grabbed
him by the shoulder and said, “Just remember we’re doing all this for
the customer. Don’t you realize if it wasn’t for them we would be
Rambler’s camp jumped at the offer,
his engineers would immediately find the explosive Nova. He stood up in
his bright green suit, brimming with confidence. At first Judge Blackmon
hesitated, but soon changed his mind when he heard the event would cause
an array of reporters to descend on the event.
The day before the event a problem
arose. Due to poor inventory management, we couldn’t find a safe fuel
tank for the Nova. I took out my cell-phone to call the head mechanic.
“Listen, I don’t care how you fix this problem. Just do it, or
you’re fired!” Obviously, fear makes people do smart things. He called
several hours later and informed me that the car would be safe to drive.
I felt the dawn of a new day break as
Goebbels and I drove down to the local racetrack. The twelve jurors, along
with Rambler and the plaintiffs sat in the stands. We provided pennants
for the jurors who enthusiastically waved them. Rambler again had on that
sickening crisp green suit.
On the racetrack Judge Blackmon
meandered, preening his implanted hair, waving at the thousands of
reporters. Before the car had even arrived, they had been swayed by the
grandeur public relations event. The loud music echoed through the stands,
the bright flags blew in triumph.
Then with a loud noise, the Nova raced
out of the concrete tunnel like a victorious Roman chariot. When it
reached the speed most of them usually exploded, Rambler knew something
was wrong. Leaping to his feet he screamed, “Objection your honor!
They’re making a mockery of these proceedings!” But Blackmon was too
busy shaking hands with reporters, and listening to our sincere praises of
his judicial wisdom.
We really worked him over. We invited
him to take a test drive. As we roared around the course, skidding like
teenagers on vacation, we noticed the car affected his senses. Reclining
back in the synthetic leather seats, he looked 20 years younger. Surely he
imagined how the photographs of his ride in this great machine would help
his bid for the Supreme Court. Leaning back further he said, “You two
have quite a piece of machinery here. It looks like you have this case
won,” winking slyly.
I sat amazed at his foresight in being
able to predict the trials outcome. To thank him, I assured him we would
do our utmost to raise funds for his lobbying efforts to reach the Supreme
Court. “We could always use an honest judge working on our behalf,”
I graciously added, “May I say, Judge
Blackmon, you have the nicest hair I’ve ever seen. If I owned a
magazine, I’d ask you to model for the cover.” Lifting his head up
like a peacock he said, “Well, Mr. Grayson I guess some people have it
and some don’t.”
Upon exiting the vehicle the jurors
along with the reporters were on their feet applauding. The Pavlovian
conditioning from our advertising had completely revived. It was clear we
won. I looked at Rambler. He had an expression of juvenile contempt, like
Al Gore after election night, refusing to concede defeat.
My confidence was at its highest level.
I didn’t just want to win, I wanted to humiliate him. I proposed a stunt
that would prove once and for all the safety of the Nova. We would take my
car and crash it into the Nova. The car would be driven at 30 MPH a speed
where any normal tank would remain inert.
The reporters with renewed excitement
positioned their cameras for the spectacle. Rambler ran to any reporter
within reach, shaking them trying to convince them of the fraud.
As my Mercedes headed towards the side
of the Nova. I felt I had just won an academy award, so I had to thank
someone. Picking up my cell-phone I called the head mechanic to thank him
for reworking the vehicle. He was grateful for the bonus I gave him. He
excitedly explained how hard he labored trying to fix the problem.
Appreciating his improvisational skills
I asked, “By the way, just how did you replace that fuel tank?”
Replying with an air of confidence he said, “Actually I couldn‘t find
one for the car so I instead made some adjustments near the tank.
Everything will go fine. Well, as long as you don‘t have a side impact
I froze in paralysis. In that moment
the car struck the Nova. As a giant orange burst of fire erupted I saw the
hopes of an ideal consumed in a conflagration. Gone were my dreams of easy
market share, exponential profits, and fame.
Due to the collision angle; the shape
of the flames coalesced with slight variations. The flames formed the fist
with the middle finger, but at a horizontal angle. The higher octane fuel
interacting with the matrix framework of the Nova caused the middle finger
to shoot out an extra 80 yards, striking Judge Blackmon who had his back
turned, waving to the photographers.
The horizontal fingered inferno struck
Blackmon on the back of the head, and upper shoulder. The unique
ingredients in his hair implants interacted with the fire, curling up, and
embedded into his head like crop circles.
For a few seconds there was complete
silence from the audience. Then I heard a squealing laugh piercing off the
stadium walls in a vibrant echo. In the stands I saw my nemesis Rambler on
his back laughing with hysteria.
Needless to say Judge Blackmon later
threw me and Goebbels in jail for contempt. Legend has it he was hanging
from a pair of stirrups preparing for a skin graph when he gave the order.
I’m sure his anger became intolerable when a engineer he consulted
theorized that he would never be able to delete the circular images of the
implants on his head. The Nobel Prize winning engineer insisted they had
become ingrained on his head like a shadow after a nuclear explosion.
When the trial finished, the jury had
awarded the plaintiffs 2.4 million for compensatory damage along with 8.2
billion for punitive damage. The 8.2 billion composed our entire
Without advertising we now have no way
to increase sales. The only way to make a profit is to cut costs. I feel
very confident I can do this while avoiding controversy. I just had a
meeting with the CEO of Bridgestone/Firestone, and he said he could sell
us some tires at a very low price. We should have them in a couple of
months. Just in time for my mother-in-law’s birthday.
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