Brilliant Marketing Meets Dark Humor

Maybe because I was always better at the quant-y courses in B-school than touchy-feelie ones (not that B-school has the most demanding academic standards, mind you), I’ve always been a bit leery of marketing, as opposed to selling. Selling I understand, the hocus-pocus with marketing has often seemed a bit dubious to me. Yes, there are some truly brilliant ad campaigns, but even when they are undeniably clever, I’m not certain how much extra product they moved.

I must now eat some crow. I have now concluded that there is at least one company has some very clever marketing people. I’m not into plugs, and I have no economic relationship with these folks, but I think you’ll see why they get my thumbs up.

I came back from two weeks out of town, and one of the things waiting for me is a plain package. In it is a large book, The Rise of Charles Ponzi, and underneath it is a catalogue from a company called Despair, Inc. The book is one of four items on its cover. No note, nothing besides the book and the catalogue.

Whoever decided to send this to me is a genius. This entire enterprise is an exercise in morbid humor. For instance, they have a series of Demotivators, posters and computer covers in with black borders, a photo in the middle, a single word underneath photo and a tagline (if you saw one, you’d recognize this is a recent convention). The one on Consulting shows a handshake (just hands and wrists) of two men in suits. Caption:

If you are not a part of the solution, there’s good money to be made in prolonging the problem.

I’m a big believer in synchronicity (that is an intellectually respectable way to admit to being superstitious), and when I opened the catalogue, the very first page I saw showed “Dates of Despair” which has quotes for every day of the year. The one they chose to display was for the 15th of an unidentified month:

An S&P analyst in the Collateralized Debt Obligations Group emails a superior, ‘Let’s hope we’re all wealthy and retired by the time this house of cards falters. ;o) (2006)

CDOs mentioned in a glossy catalogue! The Big Mystery I’ve been beavering away at for over two years has gone mainstream! Yes, this is a catalogue for people who like looking in dark corners, but still!

And they are pretty unabashed about steering customers to order online. At the bottom of each page:

Order online @ It’s fast and won’t screw up your order, unlike our phone reps.

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  1. ex-PFC Chuck

    As a stocking stuffer this past Christmas my wife gave me a T-shirt from Despair Inc. that I happen to be wearing now as I read this post. The legend says in large print “The Time for Action Is Past”, followed below in a much smaller font “Now Is the Time for Senseless Bickering.” I’m still not sure what message she she was trying to send by giving me this.

    PS: As I removed my outer shirt and looked down to read the T-shirt to make sure I quoted it correctly, I found that it was on inside out. My excuse is that, as is usually the case, I arose before dawn and dressed in the dark to avoid waking her.

  2. weinerdog43

    Our office is scheduled to be closed when our lease expires next March (2011). I’m EXTREMELY tempted to get one of the posters and put it up. After all, what have i got to lose?

  3. Muaziz

    Funny you mention the “Consulting” one. I’ve had it hanging in my office for some years. And yes… I am a Consultant.

  4. Keenan

    From Seapair’s website, the founder’s message:

    MOTIVATION. Psychology tells us that motivation- true, lasting motivation- can only come from within. Common sense tells us it can’t be manufactured or productized. So how is it that a multi-billion dollar industry thrives through the sale of motivational commodities and services? Because, in our world of instant gratification, people desperately want to believe that there are simple solutions to complex problems. And when desperation has disposable income, market opportunities abound.

    AT DESPAIR, INC., we believe motivational products create unrealistic expectations, raising hopes only to dash them. That’s why we created our soul-crushingly depressing Demotivators® designs, so you can skip the delusions that motivational products induce and head straight for the disappointments that follow!

    E.L. Kersten, Ph.D.
    Founder and COO

  5. Dagny

    The annual Despair calendar order is a small beacon of hope at a certain Congressional numbers crunching agency that will not be named here. (It’s unofficial name starts with “nonpartisan”.)

  6. Craig

    I particularly like the “blogging” desktopper: “Never before have so many people with so little to say said so much to so few.”

  7. Elena

    Heh, I received the framed “Doubt” quote when I started at a large (and now non-existent) investment bank in mid-2001. This photo has traveled with me from job to job for the past nine years and I still get a chuckle looking at. I am glad to see Despair’s still around…

  8. Hu Flung Pu

    I have three Despair “tryptichs” that I made from the calendars. I cut out three of the messages/artwork and had them framed side-by-side in one frame…. three separate times. I loves me some Despair!

  9. Chris

    Maybe we could get a special Demotivator for NC – something like this:

    Collateralized Debt Obligations
    A forest fire begins with a single match.

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