The packaging was very alluring; styled white with blue trimmings, a push-pump on top (this was a major selling point) and a smiling Caucasian woman applying the ointment to her face beneath the crisp blue lettering: Dermapure Reinvigorating Daily Facial Cleanser. The back of the bottle was, of course, a list of the hundreds of intentionally obfuscated chemical names that went into the manufacturing of the cream. The product came to fruition under Jim Norton, who was a rising star, and held the distinction of being the fastest developed product in Dermapure’s history. Norton received a hefty bonus for the celerity of the project, and all was well until the post-release product review the following month.
The Review Board always made project supervisors sit at the far end of a needlessly long table while they crowded around the opposite end. Jim sat in this distant chair, squirming beneath the harsh gaze of the Board – a trio of elderly men so stern and still they made Mount Rushmore seem a lively group of whippersnappers. The head of the group, a wilted gargoyle who only responded to Mr. Avery or Sir, scrutinized the bottle of cleanser in the middle of the table. He wheezed as he spoke.
“Jimmy-boy, glad you could make it to this meeting.”
“It’s a pl-“
“Now let’s get down to numbers, shall we?” Dr. Newman had a wheedling voice and an unerring ability to criticize, “We moved thirteen thousand units of the Cleanser in our test area, and since the nationwide release we’ve seen comparable sales in metropolitan areas. We’re looking at profits close to six hundred thousand-“
“Yes,” the voice of Mr. Gargon rumbled from the left of the triad, “but comparable is inferior to favorable. We’re showing weak sales amongst the coloreds.”
“We’re supposed to call them the blacks, now.” Dr. Newman issued his corrections as frequently as his criticisms.
“I believe the correct term is Afro-Americans, Newman.” Mr. Avery was nearly correct, as usual.
“Regardless of what you call them, they aren’t buying any product.” Mr. Gargon chuffed on a cigar. Jim observed the faint flick of his yellowing moustache, the glint in his eye – the signs of some repressed statement. For a man like Gargon to subdue his own line of thought, it must certainly have been abhorrent. Jim fidgeted before responding.
“Well, yes, sirs, there are already a few established products we’re competing against that specifically target those markets, though. Most of Dermapure’s lines are marketed towards the affluent, uh, suburbanite household.”
“Well you’re the darling of the company right now,” Mr. Avery punctuated his sentences with coughs and sputters, “How would you target these markets?”
Jim was unprepared for this line of questioning; he took to drumming his fingers on the thick, modern table. He looked to the windows, examining the glass itself, then to the shaded visage of the city beyond, and finally somewhere further. He snapped his attention back to the group of vultures circling the far end of the table. “I suppose the prudent thing to do is to introduce a new product specifically for those areas to grab new consumers, then to gradually merge the branding with the existing cleanser.” It was a spontaneous thought. The three misers chattered between themselves quietly, before nodding with sporadic guffaws.
“A fine idea, fine indeed.” Another of his telltale wheezes. “We’ll start right away. Jim, you will coordinate. Newman – see if we need to change any of the formulas for the new product. Gargon, what should we call it?”
“Well, it’s a cleanser for the blacks-“
“Right, whatever, so let’s give it an ethnic-sounding name.” Gargon chomped on his cigar for a moment. “How about Dermapure Ethnic Cleanser?” The members of the board chittered agreement. Jim momently sat shocked by the suggestion.
“Sir, I don’t really think tha-“
“So Jimmy-boy, head back to your group and get the rebranding done. If we work quickly, we can roll this line out within the month and keep the momentum of our current campaign. Brilliant work, men, brilliant work.” Mr. Avery congratulated his team, who in turn congratulated each other. The treble congratulation raged as Jim skulked into the halls and went in search of his creative team.
The marketing team was shocked at the specifics of the project and immediately requested to change the assigned name. The next day a memo arrived from upper management, allowing the addition of the word ‘reinvigorating’ to the packaging, and so it was that the task was begun regardless of personal feelings or any innate sense of decorum. In a mere two weeks, the new bottles arrived: sleek and slate-gray, bold black lettering reading Dermapure Reinvigorating Ethnic Cleanser, and faced with a rather stern African American man staring accusingly into the distance. They inspired a vague sense of outrage in all who saw them, excepting the Board who claimed they were brilliant and began the product launch.
The launch was, to the expectation of most, a disaster. The only items that sold were champions of sheer novelty, shared and liked, commented upon by outraged consumers. Dermapure’s stock plummeted and soon Jim was selected as a scapegoat – all the blame was placed on him, a lone renegade racist in the company attempting to further some homebrewed supremacist agenda. Mr. Avery, naturally and discreetly, wrote him a check large enough to ensure his silence and his well-being in the foreseeable future. The company weathered the storm for a week, when some fresh outrage brewed elsewhere and the public eye turned away – and through it all, the Board remained unchanged.