A Tall Order

This month we were pleased to have an opportunity to speak to top advertising guru Christian Pyle, who dropped in to speak to us about his company's latest campaign. This is what he had to tell us.

University of the Bleeding Obvious: Christian Pyle, as one of the leading lights in a thriving advertising industry, you've certainly turned a few heads in your time. However, I'm sure you'll agree that your agency's latest account has to be its most controversial, yes?

Christian Pyle: Well now, I'm not sure that 'controversial' is quite the word I'd choose to describe it. It's certainly a very challenging assignment, I won't deny that. But speaking as someone who thrives on challenge, it's a prospect I rather relish.

UBO: I see. We're talking, of course, about your forthcoming campaign for Gabriel Landen PLC, Europe's largest manufacturer of disposable tampons.

CP: That's right.

UBO: You were quoted, I think, in the Financial Times last week as being confident that you could double the company's turnover within the next eighteen months. That's a tall order.

CP: Well, it's not going to be plain sailing.

UBO: Indeed not. Do you really believe that you can live up to such a promise? I mean, given that Gabriel Landen already dominate the feminine hygiene market, do you think you can realistically wrest any more of the market share away from the competition?

CP: Certainly we can. I have no doubt about that. No doubt at all. But that isn't really the main thrust of our strategy.

UBO: Is it not?

CP: Oh, no, no, no. You see, in order to achieve the sort of growth we're aiming for, we need to open up a whole new market.

UBO: I see. Geographically? The Far East, or South America, perhaps?

CP: Demographically. We need to introduce our product to people who would never have previously considered buying a tampon.

UBO: Ah... and by that you mean...?

CP: Well, we mean young, middle-class males between the ages of 18 and 25.

UBO: All right, yes... men?

CP: Indeed. You see, here we have a sizeable section of the populace that the tampon industry has so far completely failed to cater for. It's a completely untapped market, just waiting for someone with the right amount of drive, vision and verve to come along and make a killing. It's the so-called Loaded generation - young males with well-paid jobs, no responsibilities and money to burn. It makes perfect sense for us to target them.

UBO: Yes, yes, of course, I see that. But I can't help feeling that you're going to have a hell of a hard time selling, erm, tampons to men. If you see what I mean?

CP: Oh, believe me, I know it's not going to be easy. There will be certain obstacles.

UBO: You're not kidding.

CP: But, as I said earlier, I'm up for a challenge. We will have to completely rethink, reinterpret and re-conceptualise the tampon.

UBO: Do you think you might also need to re-engineer it?

CP: Well we're not ruling anything out at this stage. You see the main problem we face is that the tampon has traditionally been aimed at women and, as such, marketing strategies have concentrated on things like comfort, ease of use and peace of mind. That kind of sales pitch just won't work for men. We will need to emphasise the dynamic qualities of the product - the danger, the mystery, the machismo, if you like. We need to fix a different image of the tampon in people's heads - associate it with fast cars and high living. Our TV spots will be fronted by racing drivers, athletes and film stars. In fact, we're currently having talks with Arnold Schwarzenegger's people, which is something I'm particularly excited about.

UBO: Right, yes, I see. And you think that will be enough to persuade men to buy tampons, do you?

CP: Well, not in itself, no. We're going to have to take a long hard look at the product range itself. We need a variety of tampons designed by men, for men. Tampons in chrome, brushed steel or mat black. And we will have to market them with names like 'Stallion', 'Nelson' and 'Polaris'. We're looking at this from every conceivable angle.

UBO: I'm sure you are, but there is perhaps one conceivable angle that you haven't considered. Namely, that men don't buy tampons, because men don't need tampons.

CP: Microwave meals.

UBO: I beg your pardon?

CP: Microwave meals. You know, when they first came up with Microwave meals they were hailed as a breakthrough in food technology - but no one thought you could ever actually sell them. Look like crap, smell like crap, taste like crap. So they gave them to us, and we sold them to the world. Want to know how? I'll tell you how: we created a demand for them. Just like we're going to create a male demand for tampons. By the time we've finished, young fashionable males will simply be unable to leave the house without their top-of-the-range designer tampons.

UBO: But, market forces aside, surely there are sound biological reasons why men don't need tampons? How do you propose to create a demand for the product? Hormone therapy? Surgery? Or maybe you've got some kind of sex change ray?

CP: Ha! No, no, of course not. The first two options are far too expensive, and the third won't be in service until 2018. We'll use something infinitely more subtle - a sales tool that we've had a great deal of practice with. We'll use fashion. We'll use peer pressure. We'll use mankind's desperate, overriding need to conform. You see, I think you're making the mistake of underestimating the power of advertising.

UBO: Well yes, quite possibly. But are you sure you're not making a similar mistake in overestimating your own influence? Surely you can't cling to the assumption that everyone is gullible enough to fall for the same line?

CP: No, no, no - of course not. I'm not saying that I can wave a magic wand and every young male across the country is going to rush out and buy tampons that they don't want, don't need and can't use. All I'm saying is that there are enough twats out there to make it worth our time.

UBO: Mr Pyle, thank you very much.

CP: It's been a pleasure.

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