BOTTLED ILLUSIONS; MEET SCAT: IN MAXX BARRY'S NEW CORPORATE SATIRE "SYRUP," HE'S A MAN WITH A BIG IDEA, A MARKETING IDEA SO BIG EVEN GIANT COCA-COLA CAN'T RESIST.

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Described as "a survivor from the trenches of corporate marketing," Maxx Barry satirizes the world of cola marketing, as told through the characters of Scat, 6 and Sneaky Pete. In this excerpt from the opening chapters of his first book, Mr. Barry follows the birth of a "huge" idea and the obstacles it faces.

I want to be famous. Really famous.

I want to be so famous that movie stars hang out with me and talk about what a bummer their lives are. I want to beat up photographers who catch me in hotel lobbies with Winona Ryder. I want to be implicated in vicious rumors about Drew Barrymore's sex parties. And, finally, I want to be pronounced DOA in a small, tired L.A. hospital after doing speedballs with Matt Damon.

I want it all. I want the American dream.

I realized a long time ago that the best way to get famous in this country is to become an actor. But I'm a terrible actor. I'm not even a mediocre actor, which rules out a second attractive path: marrying an actress (they inbreed, so you can't marry one unless you are one). For a while I thought about becoming a rock 'n' roll star, but for that you either have to be immensely talented or have sex with a studio executive, and somehow I just couldn't foresee either of those little scenarios in my immediate future.

So that really leaves just one option: to be very young, very cool and very, very rich.

Apparently, the average adult has three, million-dollar ideas per year. So everybody's got ideas. What's unique is the conviction to follow through: to work at it until it pays off.

For a long time, I couldn't get this out of my head. And then there was always the chance I could have an above average idea, because they have to be out there, too. The $50 million ideas. The $1 billion ideas.

Marketing is like L.A. It's like a gorgeous, brainless model in L.A. A gorgeous, brainless model on cocaine, having sex, drinking Perrier in L.A. That's the best way I know how to describe it.

The first principle of marketing is: Perception is reality. Perception is the filter through which we view the world, and most of the time it's a handy thing to have: It generalizes the world so we can deduce that a man who wears an Armani suit is rich, or that a man who wears an Armani suit and keeps saying, "Isn't this some Armani suit," is a rich asshole. But perception is a faulty mechanism. Perception is unreliable and easily distracted, subject to a thousand miscues and misinformation-like marketing. If anyone found a way to actually distinguish per-ception from reality, the entire marketing industry would crumble into the sea overnight.

Marketing case study

No. 1: Perfume

Triple your price. This gives customers the impression of great quality. Helps profits, too.

I have an idea for a new cola. I'm sitting at my kitchen table with a beer, a pen, a scribbled-on piece of paper and a whopping headache: Although I've come up with good ideas for the important stuff-the name, the concept and the target market-I'm short on the rest, like how it should taste. But more importantly, I've just realized that there's no way I can bring this product to market myself.

Fortunately, this is when my roommate arrives home.

"Sneaky Pete!" I say, leaping up. "Man, I'm glad to see you." He may be pleased by this, or maybe not: It's kind of hard to tell through his shades. "I have a huge idea and I need your help."

Sneaky Pete cocks a chiseled eyebrow at me, then pulls up a chair at our tacky kitchen table. I tell him all about my idea and he listens solemnly, nodding. "My problem, though," I say, "is that I don't know what to do now. I mean, I can't launch a cola product by myself. I'm stuck."

Sneaky Pete leans back in his chair, smirking.

"What?" I say. "I'm not stuck?"

He shakes his head.

"Hmm. You mean I should sell this to one of the majors?"

Sneaky Pete's lips stretch into a grin.

"OK." I think about this. "But I don't know anybody in the industry. If I just walked in there, they'd chew me over and take my idea. I need a contact." I sigh. "I guess I need to bump into someone who has the name and number of Coca-Cola's new-products marketing manager."

I snigger at this little fantasy, but Sneaky Pete doesn't share my joviality. He leans forward, and he's not smiling anymore.

"No," I say. "No way."

Then Sneaky Pete speaks. This is always a little thrill, both because it's so rare and because of his accent, which is strangely addictive.

"Yes, way," Sneaky Pete says.

I am the only person in Los Angeles who doesn't own a car, so I catch the bus to Coca-Cola's downtown tower (they're technically based in Atlanta, but have realized they can't really operate out of anywhere but California). It's huge, black and so much like a big glass of Coke it had to be accidental.

"Scat," I tell the receptionist. "I have an appointment to see the new-products marketing manager."

She slides a visitor badge across the counter and leads me to a well-lit room with a mahogany desk, big red chairs and carpet thick enough to lose small children in. I throw my briefcase on the table and sink into a chair.

Then the new-products marketing manager enters the room, and I am stunned. I am flabbergasted. I want to grab her, fling her across the table and make love to her. For whole seconds I can do nothing but stare.

She's about my age, but she walks like an experienced nutcracker. Her hair is shoulder-length, jet-black and sheer enough to deflect bullets. Her legs pop out of her heels and proudly strut their stuff all the way up to her miniskirt. Her eyebrows could cut steel. Her face is exquisitely cruel and I can immediately tell she has never smiled in her whole life.

"Good afternoon, Mr. Scat," she says briskly, seating herself across from me. She is carrying a slim folder and she slips it onto the table. I am not watching the folder. "My name is 6."

A response is called for here. I realize this far too late. To avoid embarrassing myself further by asking her to repeat her name, which sounded suspiciously like her dress size, I push a business card across to her. She returns the favor and I study her card. It confirms that her name is 6. I am impressed. I bet her real surname begins with Z and she got sick of always being last in line.

"Mr. Scat," she says. I am already in love with her lips. "Are you aware of how many unsolicited approaches our company receives from people like yourself?"

I almost take a punt, then decide against it. "No."

"Actually, not that many," she says. "But the point is they're all crap. We've never bought one."

(Part of the problem with selling ideas to marketers is jealousy. Marketers are supposed to come up with their own ideas.)

"Thank you for setting my expectations," I say.

"You're welcome." She looks at her watch. It is expensive. "You have 30 seconds."

"I have an idea that could make your company millions and you want to hear it in 30 seconds?"

6 seems genuinely surprised. "Mr. Scat, we have 30 seconds to sell our ideas to our customers. It's called advertising." She looks a little hurt, and her pouting lips make me want to ravish her even more.

"You're right," I say, humbled. "Let me apologize." My eyes narrow cunningly. "Over dinner."

6 sighs deeply. "On my office wall, Mr. Scat, is a large, nude picture of Elle Macpherson. I have this picture to remind people such as yourself that my ideal lover is one without a penis."

"Fine," I say, as if this doesn't faze me in the slightest. In truth I am completely fazed. I'm so fazed I've forgotten what I'm here for.

"You have seven seconds left," 6 says.

I spill it. "New cola product. Black can. Called Fukk."

6 looks at me for a long time, expressionless. "Mr. Scat, I would be pleased to have dinner with you tonight. The Saville, 7 o'clock."

Marketing case study

No. 2: Cola

Never discuss taste. Taste is 90% psychological and it doesn't sell cola; it's roughly one-tenth as important as image. There have been studies.

When I arrive at the Saville, 6 is already seated, wearing a white dress, which is clinging to her so tightly I doubt she can breathe. Against her midnight hair, the effect is a little dizzying. "6," I say. "You look ravishing."

"Scat." She presses long, elegant fingers together. "Let me jump right in."

"Please do," I say with real feeling.

"This Fukk cola, it's intriguing. I think it may have potential." She takes a short stick of celery and slips it between her lips. "You were thinking, of course, of the gwwfnnnfss hggnnyupp dmmnngffn."

I realize that I should quit concentrating so much on the way she slips food between her lips and start concentrating on what she is saying. "Pardon me?"

She frowns. "I asked if you were thinking of the Gen X high-end yup demographic."

"Oh, of course," I say, recovering. "It'll be the drink of cynics."

6 is nodding her head wisely.

"Forgive my asking," I say, feeling abruptly bold. "But you seem pretty young to be a marketing manager for such a high-profile company."

"I'm 21," 6 says.

"No way," I say. "You can't be 21."

"Mr. Scat," 6 says firmly. In the candlelight her eyes are very deep. "I'm 21. Deal with it."

I can pretend to swallow the lesbian routine, but this is too much for me. "Hey, I'm sure it impresses them in your marketing alumni, this young-marketing-genius-with-attitude deal. But I don't buy it."

"You seem to think I should care," 6 says.

"6, I know where you're coming from. It's hard to get credibility without some sort of angle. But it is just an angle, right? You're not 21 and you're as homosexual as I am."

"It's interesting, what you're doing," 6 tells me. She leans forward and rests her chin on one immaculately manicured hand as if she is genuinely intrigued. "You obviously have an esteem problem with your sexuality, and can't accept that a beautiful woman isn't attracted to you." She sniffs. "I did some psych units."

"When?" I say scathingly. "Elementary school?"

"I went to Stanford," 6 says steadily. I curse silently, because I usually lie about having gone to Stanford and she's beaten me to it. "I graduated from high school at 15, did four years at UCLA, an MBA at Stanford, and am now 21 years of age."

I know what she's doing: that everything she tells me is to build this marketing image, but I can't resist it. I know Coke is one part faintly repulsive black syrup, seven parts water and 42 parts marketing, but I still drink it.

"Scat," she says, "you're a little screwed up, but I want to work with you." She pulls a large black folder out from I have no idea where. I cannot conceive of 6 carrying anything large enough to contain this folder. 6 is saying, "We're going to draw up a concept sketch here," but I am transfixed by this folder. I try to think how she can possibly lug this thing around and still appear cool, and fail completely. "I'll req some people. We'll work it through tomorrow and have a presentation ready for Friday."

Today is Tuesday. "So long?"

6's eyes shift. "Let's allow some X-time."

I have no idea what X-time is, but it sounds like way too cool a concept to not know about. "Good thinking."

6 flicks open her folder to reveal massive sheets of thick paper. "I'm thinking of a staggered distribution across the country, rather than simultaneous release. I want to create two waves of release, from L.A. and New York, to ride the WOM dispersion. Assuming the CTs green out, of course."

WOM is word of mouth, and every ad exec's worst nightmare. If it wasn't so powerful, marketers would try to pretend it didn't exist. See, the problem with advertising is that lots of people tend not to believe it. You might think that after a company spends several million dollars on an advertising campaign, the least the general public could do in return is swallow the thing whole, but, unfortunately, this is not true. Instead, most people tend to place more credibility in the opinions of their friends. Horrible truths like this keep marketers awake at night.

CTs are Chicago trials. Every major product released into the American market since the 1970s has been through a Chicago trial. Basically, a CT is a scaled-down version of the planned national campaign, confined to the City of Chicago. Everyone does it, because in 1972 some guy released a research paper reporting that the population of Chicago was demographically very similar to that of the entire U.S. So the guy strung up this theory that if a product works in Chicago, it will work throughout the nation. Sometime after 1972-but way, way before now-the demographic makeup of Chicago and the nation changed so they no longer resemble each other nearly as much as they used to, but CTs have become so ingrained in the marketing process that no one can get rid of them. Everyone does CTs.

6 is scribbling on her pad. I crane my neck and see she is drawing arrows and boxes and circles and graphs. I silently approve: It's much easier to be incomprehensible than intelligent, and most people can't spot the difference. "Sounds great. And international?"

"It will follow, of course," she says, not looking up. She is now drawing a huge spiraling thing that looks like a tornado. I think she's beginning to push it a bit far. "It's critical to get the look of the can right. And the aeration. We had a bad experience in Massachusetts with aeration."

"Really?" I ask, interested.

"The bottlers got it way too high. Three thousand people rang up to complain that their Cokes were tickling their noses."

"Wow," I say, because she seems to expect it.

6 nods and draws for another moment. She appears to be shading when she adds, "Then there was that exploding can fatality."

She looks up quickly to see if I react badly to this. It's important not to appear shocked, but 6 realizes she's gone too far. "I don't want that comment interpreted to mean that any product of Coca-Cola has ever caused any personal injury to any of its customers," she says stiffly.

"I am under no impression whatsoever that your employer has ever caused any of its customers injury," I respond quickly. I didn't do business law for the fun of it.

6 studies me for a further moment. "Good," she says, going back to her shading.

I breathe a small sigh of relief.

"There," she says, tearing a bedsheet-sized paper from the pad and offering it to me. I'm surprised to see that 6 has actually been doing something constructive, not doodling at all. What I mistook for a tornado is a soda can: deep black with the word Fukk impressively rendered in Matura MT Script. It looks amazingly cool. I would drink this.

"Wow," I say. "6, this is great. You're very talented."

"Thank you," she says, as if people say this to her all the time. I don't doubt it. "I'm not in design, but I have always liked to draw."

"Tell me about it," I suggest quietly, sensing the potential for a childhood story here; perhaps the baring of a small portion of 6's soul. I look deeply into her eyes.

"About what?" she says, crossing her arms. "I just draw, that's all."

Marketing case study

No. 3: Shampoo

Pick a random chemical in your product and heavily promote its presence. When your customers see "Now with benzoethylhydrates!" they will assume that this is a good thing.

There's a late-night Elvis movie on KCOP, and I stay up to catch it. Just as Elvis is about to give a few disrespecting rednecks what-for, Sneaky Pete arrives home, dressed in a sleek black suit and smelling vaguely of aftershave and cigarettes.

"Hey!," I say. "I met 6 and she loved my idea. Pulled a team of people onto it straight away. In fact"-I look at my watch-"they could still be working on it now. They weren't going home until it was done." I stretch, oh so casual. "We present to the board in a couple of days."

I risk a glance at Sneaky Pete to see if he's impressed. He is staring at me.

"What?" I say. "What's the matter?" In the face of his opaque shades, I suddenly get defensive. "You're surprised 6 thought it was so good? Good enough to dedicate a team to working up a proposal the same day? Even though . . ." I falter. "Even though the board meeting isn't until . . ."

Sneaky Pete shakes his head slowly, almost sadly.

"Oh, crap," I say.

"I'm sorry," the receptionist says, "but Ms. 6 is unavailable."

"Where's the board room?" I demand aggressively. I am so aggressive I scare myself a little and step back. It's 7 a.m. and I'm not really used to operating at this hour.

"You can't interrupt a board meeting," she whispers, horrified.

"Damn it," I shout. "This is mission-critical!"

This is enough for her. She hurries down an oak-paneled corridor, stopping at a giant set of double doors. They are huge. They are amazing. They are the sort of doors you expect someone very large to burst from, bellowing, "Fee fie foe fum." They are exactly what I would want if I could play with millions of dollars of other people's money.

I throw the doors open and stride inside as if I know what I am doing. There is so much space in the boardroom that, for a moment, I think I must have wandered outside by mistake. Stuck in the center of this hall is a big oak table, and around it are a dozen big men.

Standing in front of the table with a sheaf of papers and a flip chart is 6. The chart sports a delicious black rendition of a can of Fukk cola.

"Sorry I'm late," I tell the room. "Traffic was terrible."

There is a long pause as the 12 men, each undoubtedly worth many millions of dollars, grope for something to say.

6 beats them to it. She grasps the situation so quickly that I know she's planned for it. "I'm sorry," she tells the board, "allow me to introduce Mr. Scat." She turns to me, and her eyes are like black knives. "He's a consultant who worked with us on Fukk."

I'm also prepared, so I laugh. "Actually," I say, because a consultant is entitled to an hourly rate and zip of the profits, "I'm the creator of Fukk."

This sparks frowns and mutters from the board, and the atmosphere turns icy and disapproving. One of the men says, "Ms. 6, we were under the impression that Fukk was developed internally." 6 shifts her weight slightly, but her expression doesn't change. "There are numerous complications involved in marketing someone else's concept."

Complications like having to pay a tiny royalty on every can, which on Coca-Cola's scale works out to tens of millions of dollars per year. Suddenly I'm feeling very, very good.

"If that's the case," the man continues, "we simply can't proceed with this product."

All moisture in my mouth evaporates. I feel like somebody has given me a check for unlimited fame and fortune, then gone "Oh sorry, that's not for you; have this commemorative coffee mug instead." I am about to do something really stupid like beg or scream or call the board a fascist regime of assholes, when 6 steps forward. She is totally calm.

"My apologies again, Mr. Croft. I'm afraid my partner may have misled you."

Partner?

"Mr. Scat and I co-developed Fukk," 6 says. She is so convincing that this statement slips easily into my brain and settles there for a second before I realize it's not true. "And he is prepared to relinquish his trademark rights for $3 million."

Of course, you can't sell ideas as such. You can sell patents, and you can sell copyrights, and you can sell trademarks.

Which is why when 6 says, "And he is prepared to relinquish his trademark rights for $3 million," a single thought occurs to me:

Trademark?

The board gets much happier upon hearing that they can acquire Fukk for a bargain-basement $3 million, and I leave Coca-Cola on the crest of their radiant smiles and a heap of paperwork with lots of blank spaces for "Scat" and "Fukk cola product."

I catch a bus downtown to the Los Angeles Patents & Intellectual Property Office, and en route I stare out the window and wonder if I am a brilliant millionaire or a really big chump.

There is, of course, no reason why I can't go down right now and register Fukk. As long as I'm first, it's mine. If Coca-Cola assumes that no one would be stupid enough to forget to do that before trumpeting their genius to large corporations, then that's just lucky for me.

The thing that bothers me, though, is that 6 doesn't strike me as the sort of person who would make any sort of assumption like that at all.

I tear through the form, completing it in 3 minutes. The clerk takes it and begins clittering away at his keyboard. This guy is about to tell me if I'm worth approximately $3 million or exactly $288.

His computer pipes up with a small beep. The clerk frowns at it disapprovingly. "Oh, sorry. You're going to have to pick a new name."

"New name?" I say faintly. There is a great roaring in my ears, which sounds, I imagine, a lot like $3 million rushing past my face and heading for the toilet.

"Yeah," he says. "There's already a registered cola product called Fukk. Just a new one, too."

So there it is. I've been screwed over. I'm going to be the poorest inventor of a billion-dollar product in history. Marketing textbooks will probably have my story in an amusing little box on Page 122, with a heading like "Great marketing blunders No. 4".

Somehow I manage to spit out: "Who owns it?" For my own masochistic reasons, I need to hear him say 6.

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