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I get a bad feeling as soon as the new marketing guy walks into the room. It's not the bright pink shirt, it's not the flashy gold cuff-links or even the Hugh Grant hairstyle and fluttering eye-lashes. No. Any man who can bounce in to a meeting wearing a name badge with 'Tarquin Standish St Hilaire' stamped on it a big bold letters is immediately suspect.
'Hi, Joe!' he announces, rushing across the room to greet me as though congratulating me on the birth of a child. He grabs my hand and shakes it vigorously. I half expect him to land a wet sloppy kiss on my lips or to hand out cigars and brandy.
'Good to meet you at last,' he tells me, finally stepping away as I shrug him off.
So here we are. Me and Tarquin meeting to discuss the internal marketing of software development within the organisation. It's not my idea. I think the Boss was feeling the pressure from some of the MBAs in the company.
'Well,' Tarquin begins, sitting across the table from me. 'I've looked at all the information you forwarded and I think we're on to some winners here.'
'I'm thinking brochures. Glossies. Full colour. Off-set. None of that cheap inkjet malarkey. What say you?'
I'm thinking I want to go home.
He takes my stunned silence as some kind of assent. 'I know we haven't talked this through yet, but I took the opportunity to knock some samples up. What say we take a look?'
He's grinning now as he pulls a bundle of colour pages from his tasteful orange and crimson leather portfolio.
'They're cheap ink-jet,' I mumble.
'Haha!! Yes, of course. But these are mock-ups, Joe. We go with the concepts then we can get these done properly. We've got the budget.'
'We have?' I ask. I mean there's no budget for anything else at the moment…
'Sure we have,' Tarquin says then turns all serious. 'It's important that the rest of the business units know exactly what kind of service we provide.'
'But don't they know that through using our software?'
Tarquin is perplexed. 'I suppose they do,' he muses. 'But they need reminding. Anyway, here's the concept: aspirations. What do you think?'
I must be hearing things. I swear he said aspirations.
'What we're selling, Joe, is an aspiration. A lifestyle choice. Our software isn't about who we are now but who we want to be. What say you?'
'How long have you been with the company?'
'Do you know what we do down here in the development group?'
Tarquin's smile is starting to fade. 'Listen, Joe,' he tells me, 'it's important not to get bogged down in details. Let's go for the big picture. Aspirations, that's the concept. Our software is about aspirations.'
'It's about billing systems, workload tracking, database access…'
Tarquin is having none of that. He covers his ears and closes his eyes until I stop.
'Aspirations,' he whispers.
'There, you see!' he announces. 'Expenses are aspirational.'
'Don't you mean fictional?'
'Whatever. Anyway, let's say we take a look at these mock-ups.'
I'm almost blinded by the colours on the pages he splays out on the table. 'Do I need sunglasses?'
'It's summery, isn't it?'
'I like the bikinis,' I admit, drawn to the naked flesh splashed across the page. Tanned bare flesh is specked with jewels of silver water, in the background the surf crashes to a sandy shore, a couple are necking under the shade of a palm tree. It's idyllic.
'What do you think?' Tarquin asks excitedly.
'I'd like to holiday there,' I admit. 'But I can't see what it's got to do with what we do.'
'It's the Java connection,' Tarquin informs me. 'I was thinking perhaps we could also give free samples of coffee with every brochure or possibly coffee flavoured mouse mats.'
I tear my eyes away from the bikini-clad lovelies and look at the text. I read it out loud for effect: 'Close your eyes and think Java. Think sun, sea, sand, sex and software. Your dreams can come true when you let us craft the Java that you wish for.'
'What do you think?'
'What about offering free holidays as well?'
'Great!! That's it Joe, think big. That's a great idea. Great. What about the other pages?'
There's a page on how we've developed a content management system for the business units to advertise their services right across the group. The title is 'Sex Your Pitch Up', and it's illustrated by pictures of half naked men and women in rubber catsuits. I swear one of them is Tarquin, but with all the rubber it's hard to be sure.
The next page switches tack completely. I have to grit my teeth to stop myself from being physically sick. My stomach turns and my knuckles are white as I hold onto my seat. It's bad. It's real bad. Cuddly puppies. Fluffy kittens. A bunny sitting in a field and chomping away innocently on a carrot. All of this under a headline of 'We do it for the future'.
The final page of the brochure contains a straight list of development services that we provide. The list is fine but each item comes with a little logo that looks like it's been cut and pasted from a clothing catalogue. Excel customisation gets a picture of a man in a silk shirt. Database design gets a leggy woman power dressed for the office.
'What do you think?' asks Tarquin.
'Truly aspiratonal,' I murmur. 'But the logos on the last page…'
'Not enough bare flesh.'
'You think so?'
'Sure. Make it sexier. Get them down and dirty.'
Tarquin is nodding excitedly. 'Great. All we need now is to get approval and we can go.'
'No need,' I tell him with a smile. 'You're the creative director, if you're happy then we're all happy.'
'And you're happy?'
'Only if you spice it up a bit more. I'll give you some web sites with suitable clip art'
Tarquin leaves the room happy.
But not as happy as I am when he's later escorted from the building after looking for those spicy clip art images.