A satire on corporate business practices.
| 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 culture.
When we introduced the Nova it 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 of my lawyer and
vice-president of consumer
research/propaganda, William Goebbels.
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, and
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 a year we had half the
Then someone discovered a slight
problem. According to our chief engineer, due
to a design flaw, up to 15% of the fuel tanks
had the potential to 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. Along with
Goebbels and all executives, I assembled 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 cost-benefit
With our 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
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
executives tried objecting, but my decision
was final. Before they left I said, “You can’t
argue with numbers!”
My adviser Goebbels walked over to me
and stated that my firm leadership was
unparalleled in corporate America.
Despite the flattering comment, I’ve always
been a man way too modest to accept praise.
I smiled at him, stating, “It’s all about serving
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 publicized every explosion. The
media frenzy created such bad publicity, our
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 jumped on this
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 referred us to an ethics class when the
question came up.
There seemed to be no alternative, but to
recall the Novas. Then my adviser Goebbels
gave some invaluable insight, which attested
to his knowledge of the consumer mind.
Instead of wasting billions on a recall, we
could instead invest more into advertising to
offset this publicity. Goebbels had a Phd in
psychology; he explained his study of our
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 behavior 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, white water
rafting, drive by shootings, and posters of
action adventure movies, juxtaposed with a
human brain in the background.
“The average customer in our target
segment doesn’t care about quality. They
want image and glamour,” he remarked,
taking off his 14k gold rimmed glasses. “Wait
a minute. Are you saying 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 desire. Adventure!”
It hit me like a divine revelation. I finally
understood the mind of this marketing genius.
We could maintain our sales 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
explodes is enticing to 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 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.
It brought us back to the cost benefit
analysis. 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 picked up our cell-phones, calling
executives to stop the 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
adventurer. This amount of saturation into the
public mind would offset the negative publicity
of Mr. Rambler.
Despite reports of explosions, and
expenses from lawsuits, our sales
rebounded. 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 had more funds.
We would have 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 footage of
one explosion. I sat in my 42 room mansion
as I watched his ad on my wide-screen
television. 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
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 in disarray.
The blow by Rambler was an unforeseen
masterstroke. In one daring maneuver he
erased all the emotion based conditioning of
The reason? He countered with the one
image that more than any other spoke to the
heart and mind of American society: the
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
It came to no avail. According to Goebbels
the only way we could turn the tide of lagging
sales was to discredit the source of the attack.
Mr. Rambler was in the middle of a liability suit
against the Nova. For the past several
months he had been guaranteeing a victory in
the 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, 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 jury had a
strong inclination to be swayed by theatrical
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, “Remember we’re
doing this for the customer. Don’t you realize
if it wasn’t for them we would be nothing?”
Rambler’s camp jumped at the offer, his
engineers would immediately find the
explosive Nova. He stood up in his crisp
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 attend.
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. Do it, or you’re fired!” 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 racetrack.
The twelve jurors, along with Rambler and the
plaintiffs sat in the stands. We
provided pennants for the jurors who 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 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 leaped to his
feet screaming, “Objection your honor!
They’re making a mockery of these
proceedings!” But Blackmon was too busy
shaking hands with reporters, and listening to
our praises of his judicial wisdom.
We invited him for 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
this ride 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 .
I sat amazed at his foresight. To thank him,
I assured him we would raise funds for his
lobbying efforts to reach the Supreme Court.
“We could always use an honest judge
working on our behalf,” Goebbels explained.
Upon exiting the vehicle the jurors along
with the reporters stood on their feet
applauding. The Pavlovian conditioning from
our advertising had revived. I looked at
Rambler. He had a look of juvenile contempt,
like Al Gore after election night, refusing to
I didn’t want to win, I wanted to humiliate
him. So 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 anyone within reach, 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
praise him for reworking the vehicle. He was
grateful for the bonus I gave him. He excitedly
explained how hard he labored to fix the
Appreciating his improvisational skills I
asked, “By the way, just how did you replace
that fuel tank?” With an air of confidence he
said, “Actually I couldn‘t find one for the car so
I made some adjustments near the tank.
Everything will go fine. Well, as long as you
don‘t have a side impact collision.”
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 horizontal fingered inferno struck
Blackmon on the back of the head. 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 silence. Then
I heard a squealing laugh piercing off the
stadium walls. In the stands I saw 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 he would never be able to delete the
circular images on his head. The Nobel Prize
winning engineer insisted they had become
ingrained on his head like a shadow after a
When the trial finished, the jury had
awarded the plaintiffs 2.4 million for
compensatory damage along with 8.2 billion
for punitive damages. The 8.2 billion
composed our advertising budget.
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.