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Bottled Watter

October 18, 2012

Eric Wattkins watched the young executive with interest. She edged backward, toward the easel. Her mouth smiled while her eyes darted from face to face with growing panic.

“That’s why,” she said, “I am proud to present to you, Kineticorp’s latest innovation, Bottled Watter!”

There was a palpable silence. The only sound was the sound of the presenter pulling fabric away from a large rectangular poster board. It showed a picture of a cartoon bottle of water tilted at a jaunty angle. Written in jocular black letters in a circle around the bottle it read: “Bottled Watter”. Eric leaned back in his chair. All the heads around the conference table turned slowly toward him so they could gauge their reactions by his reaction.

“This is a dead market,” he said. The words fell heavily.

“With all due respect, sir,” her eyes glittered under the white fluorescents, “this is a ripe market. Our projections show that with even minimal effort, Kineticorp could have the market cornered within five years.”

“But we’re not even offering anything new,” said one of the faces around the table.

“I disagree,” she said. “We’re offering hydration. We’re offering vitality. We’re offering maximum wattage from your water. We’re offering Bottled Watter.”

After a quick glance at Eric Wattkin’s inscrutable expression, another voice at the table spoke.

“You’re not even saying anything. All you’re saying is that we’re selling water.”

“You’re missing the point,” the desperation pulled away tact, “that’s exactly what I’m saying. It’s not about what you’re selling but how you sell it. All we ever see from the water industry is them letting the water sell itself. They focus on the product rather than the brand. But Kineticorp studies have proven time and again that the brand always supercedes the product. Now look at our prospective rivals in the industry. Are there any brands that you have a particular affinity for? Probably not. Our polling data shows that consumers across the board really have no preference. Convenience is what influences most purchasing decisions in the market. So we implement a two-point plan. Brand awareness and market saturation. Kineticorp has the infrastructure in place to completely dominate in, what has been up till now, a largely untapped market. It’s not just water, it’s Bottled Watter.”

Eric Wattkins slowly untented his fingers and leaned forward. He tapped his nose.

“Let’s get our beaks wet,” he said, smiling. “Nice job, Amanda.”

She pushed her glasses up and smiled shyly.

The executives streamed out of the conference room, dispersing through the arteries of the Kineticorp building.

“It’s like money for old rope,” said Andy as the doors to the elevator slid closed.

“Easy for you to say,” Dean replied. “Marketing’s the easy part.”

“You’re telling me. Sometimes I can’t believe my luck. Especially with the new chick heading up R and D. She practically does my job for me. Not bad looking either.”

“Well, I’m happy for you. Must be nice being paid for nothing. Meanwhile I have to figure out where we’re going to get bottles, labels and water from.”

“I would’ve thought that would be the easy part. Christ, Kineticorp already has the bottling facilities in Jersey. You just need to find the water. I’d just hook up a hose and start filling bottles.”

Dean looked incredulous.

“You’re kidding, right? We’re trying to corner a market here. That means we’ve gotta have the best product available. That means artisanal mountain spring water or we’re screwed.”

“We’re you even listening in there? The broad said it didn’t matter. She said she’s got studies saying that the brand is what matters. I’m half-tempted to suggest we just forgo the whole water thing all together. Just sell ‘em bottles full of air.”

“Yeah.”

“I mean, Wattkins didn’t specify what kind of water he wanted. He put you in charge of it because he trusts you. And you know that marketing’s got your back. We could sell a butt plug to homophobe with the right marketing.”

“I suppose that’s true.”

The elevator doors opened.

“So, come on, let’s get the plebes working on this and we’ll go get a drink.”

“I could use a bourbon.”

“And I could use a blowjob. So let’s get our drones on it and get down to the club.”

“Alright.” Dean let his worried expression slip and showed a smile.

“Meet me in the lobby in twenty,” Andy said.

They split up and charged toward their respective offices.

Eric Wattkins stared out the window. The executives around the table behind him glanced at each other nervously. Amanda watched the young executive at the other end of the room standing nervously beside the loss/profit charts projected on the wall. Eric Wattkins turned around and glared at her.

“One year ago,” he said slowly. “One year ago you came in here and you told me, you assured me that Bottled Watter was a home run. You told us that it would be like printing money. Little risk, great reward.”

Amanda gulped and nodded slightly.

“Now we see,” his voice grew a decibel, “now we have Accounting telling us that we’ve spent more than we’ve made. Now I have investors asking me what the hell we’re doing. We have lawsuits alleging that our advertising is misleading and the legal bills are mounting. Our brand, which you yourself have said on so many occasions, is of paramount importance has been tarnished, dragged through the mud by the financial news media. I am left here, a man who made himself from nothing, a man who climbed to the highest heights of industry from the lowest lows of poverty, I am left here looking like a damned fool. And it’s all because of you.”

“Well, sir, I—”

“Don’t ‘sir’ me. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that anything you say is going to change what I’m going to do to you. All I want is for you to explain what the hell you did and how the hell we’re going to fix this. I will not accept another quarter of declining profits.”

“Well, sir, er, Mr. Wattkins,” Amanda started again. “I take full responsibility. But I must say, sir, that we have only done what I said we would do. We have done everything by the book. The marketing was spot on. The saturation was almost total. We have our Watter in nearly ninety percent of available markets. This thing should’ve been a slam dunk.”

“Well, Miss Parnell, it was not a slam dunk, as you put it. If you want to put this in sporting terms, hell, if you want to put it in basketball terms, this was an air ball. You missed the basket entirely.”

“In my defense, sir, and with all due respect, I was responsible only for the research and development. The implementation was out of my hands.”

“Hey,” exclaimed Andy, “our marketing was award winning!”

“Can it, Preston,” barked Eric Wattkins. He turned back to Amanda. “Now I want answers, not excuses. What went wrong and how do we fix it?”

“Well, to be honest, nothing went wrong on our end. The problem isn’t with us. Our brand is strong; our marketing is strong; our accessibility is strong. The problem is with the consumer. We did all we could do. In the end, the decision has to be made by the consumer and our research shows that that decision was not being made.”

Eric Wattkins put his fists on the table and leaned toward her menacingly.

“Don’t peddle your snake-oil to me,” he hissed. “Obviously we did not do all we can if the consumer is still not convinced.”

“There are only so many celebrity endorsements you can get,” Amanda said petulantly.

Eric Wattkins turned toward the window and looked out at the city below the gray skyline.

“Your severance package will be mailed to you,” he said over his shoulder. “Be out of the building by the end of the working day.”

A somber silence settled over the room as Amanda Parnell gathered her papers and her briefcase and exited the beating heart of Kineticorp. The remaining executives stared at the shiny black surface of the conference room table.

“I want answers!” Eric Wattkins shouted into the silence.

The young executive standing beside the projected profit and loss charts cleared his throat.

“Is there something you’d like to share?” Wattkins asked, turning like a tiger scenting prey.

“Well I’m—uh—I’m quite familiar with the project,” he said nervously.

“What’s your name?”

“I’m Timothy, sir. Timothy Edwards.”

“Well, Timothy,” his voice had a cutting edge, “perhaps you’d like to share with these knuckleheads.”

“I just—uh—I was just noticing—well, I noticed that a lot of attention and money has been spent on branding and the like and I—uh—I just feel like maybe somebody should’ve made sure that we—you know—had a superior product instead of just saying we do. People can tell the difference.”

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. November 4, 2012 12:30 pm

    Your story makes a point applicable to so many products in today’s world. We are bombarded with adds for new and existing products.
    I must read the rest of your short stories ASAP

  2. November 20, 2012 8:11 am

    I have returned to school to get my Advertizing degree so this caught my eye and I could not agree more. We have a store here called “Walmart” I’m sure you know of it. I grew up calling it Walmart-Fall-Apart because the products are poor quality. They didn’t change the quality but they changed the marketing tactics. Their strongest quality is the cheapness so that’s their selling point. Honesty goes a long way.

    • November 22, 2012 3:31 pm

      Thank you. It was a hard lesson when I first ventured out into the world on my own: you get what you pay for.

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