Scene: Madison Avenue. The Devil has been summoned to take a meeting.
DEVIL: Boy am I tired. Tired blood. That sniffling-sneezing-coughing-aching-stuffy-head-fever-feeling. Nagging lower-back pain. Worried about denture grip. No surprise there. I’m old enough to be a member of the mead generation. Here’s the office. Mr. Ad Hype. Hmmmm. [Enters]: What can I do for you, Mr. Hype?
AD: Hi there, you wonderful ordinary American! You are American, aren’t you?
AD: Well, never mind. We here at Smiley and Lowde have good news for you! Sure, you’re tired, cranky. Your engine needs some oil treatment to stop it overheating in all that traffic, uh, down there. That’s why we’re bringing you this special offer!
AD: We always speak of myself that way. And we’re here to sell you a soul! Actually ours—mine—with an offer you can’t refuse! Have you ever considered the great sins we encourage every day in the ad game?
DEVIL: All the time.
AD: Well, we’re bringing your favorites to you in one convenient, easy-to-use package! Avarice! Pride! Envy! Lust! Sloth! Wrath! Gluttony! That’s what our TV ads are all about! Now don’t change that dial! This offer cannot be repeated! Just pick a sin, and we’ll prove to you that we encourage it! Think of it! One adman’s soul can be yours if you order now! Just print your name and address on this card and send it, together with one vice presidency—
DEVIL: Vice presidency? And what makes you think I want your crummy soul?
AD: Just a little vice presidency here at the agency. And after our soul arrives, you’ll be amazed you ever got along without it! Order now and you get the matching Ginsu carving set absolutely free!
DEVIL: I use forks. Tell me about these sins you encourage.
AD: Glad you asked! Let’s start with—Envy! Folks wanting what they think the neighbors have or are just about to order toll free! The whiter wash, the reech Cor-een-thian la-ther, the lawn where the dandelions don’t leap up like buildings as you watch, the great-looking legs in panty hose that make you bounce like Mary Lou Retton from dawn till 4 A.M.! We also have reverse envy—Shame! You think anyone has dishwasher spots on their glasses and ring around the collar except you? Are you the only one who has to wonder where the yellow went? Don’t you wish everybody did?
Wait, there’s much, much more! Lust, you say? You want Lust? We had Gunilla Knutson, blond hair already tousled, whispering, “Take it off, take it awwwl off” for Noxzema! We had lookers we don’t even remember the names of whispering, “All my men wear English Leather or they wear nothing at all.” We had Joey Heatherton doing funny stuff on a Serta mattress! You want kinky? Mr. Whipple!
But, you say, you think you really want—Gluttony! Piece of cake! We show you how you can eat all you want and never pay a price, except maybe for those tiny little pleasant-tasting antacids! “Try it, you’ll like it!” We show you that Redgrave girl proving that you can cram yourself with all the lasagna della Nero you want without adding an inch. “Bet you can’t eat just one!”
Ah, but maybe you’re thinking, “What about—Pride?’ Ok-a-a-a-ay, you now own the humongous black sedan all the country club parking attendants know on sight! All your friends have huge, black, no-name models that the attendants can’t even tell apart, and there you stand, smirking justifiably, as the drooling kid finds your car—and the other car owners wait!
And we haven’t even told you about—Avarice! We get ’em started early. We once hired kids-show stars as salesmen because the poor little tykes couldn’t tell the difference between the hero and the pitchman! So you had your Fred Flintstone booming on about vitamins, you had your Sugar Pops Pete, your Toucan Sam and your Huckleberry Hound all pitching to the minors! Sure, that got outlawed, but we still can hire ridiculous spokespersons to impress the grown-ups! Lord Olivier sells Polaroids! Patrick Swayze quits dirty dancing to drink Mountain Dew! Joe Dimag says Mr. Coffee’s great, and he should know because he played baseball! And none of those folks needed a dime!
DEVIL: One moment. We were talking about encouraging greed in consumers.
AD: YOU want consumer Avarice? We do it the old-fashioned way. Just buy the right mutual fund and you can be the bull of the market or the lion of Wall Street, all the while being in safe hands with Allstate! Maybe you want fitness Avarice? Dannon yogurt can make you into a 100-year-old dancing Russian overnight! Okay, you don’t buy Avarice, forget Avarice! Take—Sloth! In the kitchen, Mr. Clean and the White Tornado will do all the work! Airlines! In 20 seconds we’ll whisk you to hot, cushy places where you can windsurf or lie in a hammock oozing sunscreen—and you know which you’ll do!
DEVIL: That’s just Wishful Thinking, not an Approved Sin. After Wrath, you’ve had it.
AD: May we be frank with you here? Wrath is not our strong suit.
DEVIL [Making a note]: No Wrath.
AD: Wait, wait. We have Wrath. “Howdja like a nice Hawaiian Punch?” Bam! Right in the kisser! How about Robert Conrad, this battery on his shoulder, saying find a better one, “I dare you!”
DEVIL: YOU were hot for a while, but it has been uphill—you’d say downhill—since Avarice. Young man, I’ve been a consultant to this business since the beginning—I mean the real beginning—and I’ve created too many vice presidents already. Best I can do for you is the Preparation H account. You want?
AD: That’s fast, fast, fast, but it’s not relief. We were banking—banking, as in a fire?—on this account. You mean no sale?
DEVIL: Looks like you’ll just have to end up in Heaven.
AD: Lord, we never thought of that. Hm, double our pleasure, double our fun…