“I come up this way when I need some inspiration and solitude to think,” my friend said as we met on the hiking trail.
I was panting and looking for a place to sit down. Then, I saw him sitting on a wayside bench.
Our worlds have drifted wide apart after he became a high-paid advertising executive. However, panting deeply I sat down next to him on the bench to regain my breath though his phone was blaring some unbearable music.
Both of us were sweating profusely, and he was holding an electric fan in an effort to fight the summer heat. The signs of his success were unmistakably evident. His attire was all branded. He had also added a few inches here and there.
“Yes, up here it is quiet and peaceful. Good to calm the mood,” I said, hoping he would take the hint and shut off the music.
“Especially people like me who have to do a lot of creative thinking,” he said encouraged by my response; but the music went on playing.
“I need to come up with some campaign ideas for major clients. So, I need this kind of environment,” he added.
“Very good idea,” I replied; but, then, before I could ask if this music helped to calm the nerves, his phone started ringing. He began talking on the phone even louder than the music that has been turned off. It might have been my imagination; but I thought his voice was echoing from the valley below.
“That was my marketing agent. He wanted to know if the campaign was ready,” said the advertising genius in exasperation. “I still haven’t thought of the plan. These guys don’t understand the pain of creativity,” he added.
He hasn’t changed much, I thought, recalling his college day boasts about his fanciful abilities.
“Must be a desperate client looking to sell their products quickly,” I wondered aloud.
“No, this is not a sale. This is a social campaign to encourage people on the mainland to have children. The new data show birth rate there is not encouraging,” he said.
Then, to remind me of his standing in the business, he said: “They came to know I had played a role in a similar campaign of the Singapore government in 2012. They want me to help.”
“Singapore had such a campaign?” I was unaware of that.
“Yes, we came out with a rap song and late-night television ads,” he said.
“Aired before people go to bed,” he explained enthusiastically, “the idea was to put young men and women in the right mood to perform their patriotic civic duty.”
“But didn’t it sound a bit too contrived?” I wondered.
“We did add some fun into it. Like asking people to put a new bun into the oven and used music to encourage people to do their national duty,” he recalled. What’s wrong with making nation-building good fun, he asked with a twinkle in his eyes.
“Did it work in Singapore?” I asked.
“I think the message got a bit muddled there. The sale of baking items soared. There was also a rise in obesity,” he said. “Some of the people who understood the message said they were too stressed out to discharge their duty regularly.”
“Stress is a major problem in all modern societies,” I pointed out.
“That is why we were thinking of offering free massage to relieve the stress of some who felt patriotic enough to do their duty. But our PR team says that is not a good idea right now,” he said. “We have to tread carefully on this one.”
“I understand,” I replied.
“Offering one million dollars to all new mothers is another plan we thought of. But that has run into problems even at my home. My wife says it should be retroactive. She says I have to pay her 2 million dollars plus interest for the two kids we have.”
“Such demands could lead to problems in many families,” I agreed.
“That is why I think the idea of offering big rewards always comes with a risk as many people will dispute the criterion,” he said.
“I actually thought of pushing for a million-dollar weekly lottery for those who get vaccinated in Hong Kong,” the creative genius continued.
“That sounds like a good plan, given the reluctance of some people to get the jab. Who would object to that kind of plan?” I asked.
“My wife,” he replied. “Both of us have already taken both the shots and if I tell her this idea, she will blame me for not waiting till the lottery was announced,” he said.
“Moreover, I don’t know how happy she will be if our domestic helper wins a million dollars and decides to pack off. My Missus will want domestic helpers excluded from this lottery,” he was trying to second guess his wife.
“I think you are worrying too much here. I think she will understand the need to get vaccinated quickly,” I tried to comfort him.
“I hope so,” he said, with an unconvincing nod of his head.
By this time, I had regained my breath and was ready to roll again. I bid him farewell as he started fumbling with his phone again to find his music.
On the trail, I began wondering if he would resurrect his bun campaign to rouse patriotism in young couples here. Could it end up in sales of more Taiwanese pineapples if the message got lost in translation again?
(A fictional satire written by Hari Kumar, who is a journalist based in Hong Kong.)
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