„I‘ve got it! Listen to this one: „Conventional auto-black turns you tan-wreck? Never again: A new you with Lagos blue.‘ That‘s good. Powerful. Suggestive. We‘re done, team.“
Riba Shi leans back on his lounger, a fluffy white affair. The guru on his cloud has spoken. His virtual reality glove points at the bright future, a larger than life 3D representation of a bottle of their new product taking centre stage.
Taru Van squeezes the steering wheel adorning her own lounger, a red sports-car. Never no criticism to be uttered in a brainstorming session. Not even when the ultimate poser comes up with the worst slogan ever, and expects you to applaud.
Smile. Focus on doing better.
Let someone else stop that phrase from ruining the prospects of a perfectly viable product.
Not easy, in the fifth hour of a pre-launch meeting that was supposed to last ninety minutes.
Taru Van normally cherishes the forty second floor view. Today, watching the sun glide into the glittering Lagos Lagoon is insufficient compensation for the ongoing hardship.
Seven of them steaming, faces gleaming despite the perfect chill.
Production reported upscaling issues. Business as usual a this stage. What works fine for a one hundred liter lab container might not produce the same results in a ten thousand liter tank. Adjustments needed to be made here, there, and at one more step. As if anyone not involved in the actual manufacturing process cared. But it‘s mandatory to pretend to listen, while checking messages or compiling the groceries shopping list for the weekend.
Unless you‘re over-diligent Quality Control. Their representative, the new guy, listened for real. He didn‘t like what he heard and countered with an impromptu thirty minute stand-up. Something about potential shelf life issues caused by all those last minute twists, including a most deplorable one initiated by Financial insisting on cheaper packaging. The scene sent Taru Van wondering if the new guy will last long enough to make it worthwhile to memorize his name.
International distribution contributed unexpected regulatory requirements. Some minor markets have funny ideas, concerning product specifications. Compliance not achievable at short notice, unless additional resources are made available. Proposal to reduce the initial launch scope. Once the product is established in the trendsetting mega-cities, the backwater clients will clamor for access, and the regulators will go flexible. Business as usual, again. And Financial of course demanded additional savings, to make up for the lost earnings from the Americas, the Europes and Japan.
This triggered another angry rant from Quality Control. Absolutely no way for them to postpone the purchase of some expensive equipment. Taru Van noticed how attentively Financial listened. A bad sign. Typically leads to a spreadsheet. First stage of doom. The new guy in Quality Control excels at digging his own grave. Definitely no need for her to learn that name.
All this was bad, and excruciatingly long-winded. Taru Van suffered. But compared to the currently ongoing disaster, the first phase of the meeting was a holiday.
The latest management fad from Cairo has wormed its way into the occasionally cloudy mind of their technically incompetent but extremely charismatic CEO:
„Only creative tasks will retain the best talent. Provide them with the chance to shine, and they’ll stay. In-house all the creative tasks currently outsourced to advertising agencies.“
At thirty five, Taru Van has seen her fair share of fads foam up, and trickle back down.
She‘s old enough to recall last century style meetings, with chairs around a conference table instead of a 3D projection area. Her internship at a small health food company led by an ancient eco-warrior taught her more history than twelve years of virtual immersion at school. That boutique insisted on keeping equipment until it broke down. Which chairs and tables do far less frequently than 3D equipment. An obsolete meeting culture persisted.
When Taru Van moved on to a proper job, her new colleagues called her first encounter with a virtual reality glove the best office comedy ever. She had to endure a lot of jokes, until the next generation of devices was rolled out and everybody had to acknowledge that she’s actually quite good at technology. She has survived her share of fads and will survive more.
But middle management sloganeering?! That‘s never going to work.
Oh, good. Klen Fado from R&D is doing the needful to stop Riba Shi‘s stupid phrase.
Taru Van wants to sleep at home tonight. She needs a slogan.
Creativity 101, let your mind wander.
Without personalized loungers, their forebears had to make do with variations in business attire, to express their inner selves. The likes of Riba Shi wore broad, aggressively colored ties. Ladies were provided with slightly more choice. An early Taru Van would have gone business vamp.
A bright red dress, in sharp contrast with her black skin. Flashy, in a cute, outmoded way.
But wearing the usual aluminiumish suit on her sports car lounger, that‘s far more comfortable. Safety and hygiene would also have been issues, with legacy attire. And who‘d dare go without functional garb, when every street corner is plastered with posters reminding citizens: „You like to breathe? You hate to bake? Wear functional, for a good ambiance!“
Creativity 101 strikes. Totally unlike lightening. Taru Van clears her throat and goes:
„Klen Fado, Riba Shi, apologies for interrupting your perfectly fascinating exchange, but how about this permutation: ‚Lagos blue. Wear it. Feel it. Live it.‘“
Taru Van did it. Their faces tell it all. Five displays of relief, one case of badly concealed hatred.
The appreciative comments come flooding:
„Without even mentioning it makes you look like naturally black people? That‘s clever. The lighties are going to love it. Already hear them lying: ‚It‘s a wellness thing, really. Would never aspire to conceal my natural skin color. Not my way. The darkening, that‘s just a side effect.“
„People will wonder, what‘s behind that slogan. We want them to guess. To get them emotionally engaged. And ready for the product they’re about to discover. Sometimes, you need to gate crash. Sometimes, you better sneak in through the back door.“
„What I really like is how we don‘t even deign compare with conventional darkeners. Auto-black, that‘s basically the concept of cooking oil applied to humans. Sick, plain sick. Millions dying too early, because of all this sun-bathing and the cancers it triggers. People don’t want to turn crusty. They don’t insist on premature death. They long for dark. Totally different game…“
Klin Fado from R&D in passionate mode, that‘s going to take a while.
Taru Van has heard it all, many times, and lets her mind wander once again.
She can‘t help wondering how the aliens feel about this scene, if they‘re listening in.
The upper floor neighbors, as they‘re mostly referred to nowadays, are assumed to have access to all virtual reality equipment. That‘s where they show up, once or twice a year.
As dark skinned women, with African or South Asian looks. The scene always unfolds according to the same script: The nightly entertainment of some innocent middle class family gets interrupted by a thirty second statement urging them to make the world a better place: „We have this dream…”
Same exhortation, for fifty years. The world obviously isn‘t a good enough place yet.
Despite the substantial efforts triggered by the persistent neighborly interest.
The aliens never threaten to use force. But signals scientifically certified as coming from one and the same very distant spot are scary. Even more so when there is exactly nothing, no potential source whatsoever, at that spot. Not even according to the most advanced instruments.
Superior technology taking an interest in local affairs, that’s not negligible.
Governments, supranational institutions and charities dutifully devised policies. And a global multitude of individuals decided not to end up on the wrong side of the upper floor neighbors. Showing off receipts for donations and diligently paid taxes replaced conspicuous consumption as status symbol. And everybody suddenly longed to be black.
That obsession with skin color strikes Taru Van as odd. The aliens manifest themselves as black women. Why the craze about just one of their properties? It’s perfectly possible that being female beats complexion. But global opinion, men and women alike, went the other way.
Taru Van’s father always entertains family gatherings with the anecdote of his first skin darkener client. A regular customer at his convenience shop, a lady with not so dark skin, had bought one tube of lightener per week for years. One day, she suddenly asked if by any the chance the opposite would be available. Preferably without having to sunbath, because heat caused her discomfort. From one week to the next, she had switched aspirations.
„… if you take the numbers seriously, sunbathing in public should be prohibited. We did it for smoking, we did it for unassisted driving, we wouldn’t dream of allowing anyone to operate an internal combustion engine outside of a carefully ventilated museum,…“
Klen Fado‘s voice turns shrieky when passion strikes. Unpleasant. Has to be endured.
A mind has to think. Taru Van tells hers to contemplate a really weird scenario:
If ever the upper floor neighbors turned out to be a black hat hacker exploit, would people switch back? After so many years? Would anyone dare display lack of respect?
Taru Van has endured so much white whining, about black privilege and presumably denied opportunities, she’s sure certain she’d never walk that road. Not even if she experienced actual, verifiable discrimination. Claiming special treatment, that’s so undignified.
Silence? Klen Fado done? A nod from Riba Shi? All is well that ends well – dinner ahead.