The Features

Past Due

A companion to the science fiction novel Everyone In Silico.

From the Summer, 2002, issue 

(No. 8)

Art by Ian Phillips
Ian Phillips

Jim Munroe’s new novel, Everyone In Silico, is set in 2036 in a future even more corporatized than our present. In order to demonstrate in a realistic and believable fashion how advertising in this future had intensified, many brand names are used throughout the book. Munroe says he believes books still have a cultural power “that allows us to speak to ourselves in a profound and honest voice. Allowing the same kind of ad saturation in books that we allow in other media means that we’re willing to trade-off this power for something much less important.” As a result, he was uncomfortable giving these companies and products what amounted to free advertising. He decided to invoice ten of them for product placement at a rate of ten dollars per mention. He received a few responses—though none with cheques enclosed. When the invoices continued to go unpaid, Munroe wrote follow-up letters. Several of these letters and responses are reprinted below.

Conan Tobias

Received February 21, 2002

Rec’d at Hershey. Who placed order? Need Hershey contact name to make payment.

Hershey Marketing Department

 

February 22, 2002

Dear Sir or Madam:

Received your inquiry re: January 10th invoice, asking who in the marketing department placed the order.

While I feel that answering “someone named Bob” might expedite the payment, I must be frank: no one ordered anything. I am pleased to see, however, that an invoice charging you ten dollars for product placement in a novel did not strike you as unthinkable.

Nor should it. Just last year Fay Weldon’s The Bulgari Connection came out with HarperCollins and Grove. Commissioned by the [Bulgari] jewellery company for an undisclosed sum, the established Weldon was required to mention the brand twelve times. Unlike magazines with their almost infinite capacity for advertisements, the book has been ad-resistant for years. Why not take a page (so to speak) from equally ad-resistant movies?

And your company has a special place in history on this, doesn’t it? Although the script of E.T. called for M&M’s, M&M turned down the offer, and Reese’s Pieces’ subsequent involvement shot sales through the roof. It wasn’t the first product placement in a movie, but it certainly popularized the strategy.

But that’s ancient history. What does the year 2036 hold for Hershey’s? Let’s look at page 126 of my futuristic novel, Everyone In Silico:

Andre glowered at him. Nicky looked from one to the other, remembered their secrecy in the train yard. “You guys, man,” she sneered, “spy versus spy.” She went into the kitchen, her stomach having ordered her into forage mode. She knew there was nothing in the fridge, so she looked through the cupboard and found a package of Reese’s Oreos.

She brought them back to the living room. Andre declined, but Simon dipped his dirty hand in, licking his lips.

Mmm...aren’t you licking your lips now, Sir or Madam? Not only will there be a tantalizing merger between your company and Nabisco, but you’ve come out on top—it isn’t Oreo’s Pieces, after all.

But it might be in the American edition, if you fail to remit your cheque.

Hoping you won’t M&M it,
Jim Munroe

To Starbucks

February 22, 2002

Dear Sir or Madam:

It is with surprise and disappointment that I serve you this past due notice.

I had originally assumed that yours was a cutting edge company in regards to product placement. Having Dr. Evil’s lair in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me turn out to be a Starbucks building was one of the most provocative placements of the last decade. Even if Myers referred to it as “the snake eating its own tail,” most people were impressed by your ability to laugh at yourself.

I assumed it was a perfect match—your ads often featured well-to-do café goers reading books. And you must love science fiction, otherwise why would you have named your company after a certain dashing captain from Battlestar Galactica?

Confident about this, as early as page three I was writing you in, demonstrating that in the year 2036 you had improved both market penetration and branding techniques:

In the first Starbucks she saw she noticed some kids she knew, so she waved and kept on going. The Starbucks a block down looked clear, however, so she held her watch on the rusty plate until the door buzz-clicked.

Breathing a silent relieved breath—she hadn’t been positive she had enough for a coffee—she threw her stuff at a table near the window and went up to the counter. As the machine filled her cup, she watched the people bustling by. Spring was all over their faces, as obvious and gleeful as strawberry jam.

Nicky put sugar and two Milkbuds into her coffee and watched the door. Mostly tourists, since the kids from the Drive favoured the outlet she had passed by. The steam from her cup curled around and coalesced briefly into the Starbucks logo, then dissipated.

When I heard nothing from your office, I did a bit of research on your company. In ’95, you were facing a boycott from people concerned about the welfare of your coffee pickers. You responded by saying that you would look into worker conditions, and the boycott ended. It wasn’t until ’97 that it was discovered that no feasibility study had ever taken place—in fact, that you had done nothing. It wasn’t until three years later, faced with the threat of another boycott, that you finally started to sell fair trade coffee—and then only in the US, where it matters, not in outlying regions like Canada.

It’s too bad that your beneficence in regards to shagadelic spies does not extend to dark-skinned foreigners languishing for years and years in extreme poverty. But it’s even sadder that you’re unable to see this unique opportunity I’m offering for expanding market share in the 18–34 demographic.

Yours,
Jim Munroe

 

Telephone call, March 14th, 2002

Jim Munroe: Hello?

Chris Gorley: Hello, can I speak to Jim Munroe from No Media Kings?

Jim Munroe: This is Jim.

Chris Gorley: I’m Chris Gorley, from Starbucks in Seattle, and we were wondering about your invoice...?

Jim Munroe: Yes?

Chris Gorley: Who did you talk to about pre-arranging this?

Jim Munroe: I didn’t talk to anyone.

Chris Gorley: Well, it’s a very minimal amount, but unless you talked to someone in the Starbucks family about pre-arranging this...

Jim Munroe: Uh-huh. Well, it’s just such a small amount compared to what you pay for movies...

Chris Gorley: Yes, you’re right. I deal with the film and TV arrangements...I received your original invoice, but, quite frankly, I didn’t know what to make of it so I sat on it for awhile...and I just got the letter...It sounds like, from your letter, that we’re on your bad-guy list. I’m sorry about that. This bit about “dark-skinned foreigners languishing”...what did you mean?

Jim Munroe: Well, it’s just that the pickers who provide your coffee get paid very little, and it’s only recently that you’ve even considered fair-trade sources. And Starbucks quashed a boycott many years ago by promising to investigate this, but never did...

Chris Gorley: Well, the media never gets the full story. If you go to our web site you’ll see what we’ve been doing...

Jim Munroe: When will you be making fair-trade coffee available in your Canadian outlets?

Chris Gorley: Well, there’s all these tariffs and...trade laws...I’m not being very articulate here, I’m sorry.

Jim Munroe: Uh-huh.

Chris Gorley: So, is the book published?

Jim Munroe: Yes.

Chris Gorley: Well, I’ll have to see if I can get it at Amazon.com.

Jim Munroe: O.K. Well, thanks for calling.

From: Steve Tuttle
[mailto:Steve@taser.com]
Sent: Monday, January 28, 2002 3:56 PM
To: ‘jim@nomediakings.org’
Subject: Invoice from No Media Kings?

I just got a bill for $70 for product placement in the novel Everyone in Silico. I have absolutely no idea what this invoice is for? Can someone assist me?

Sincerely,
Steve Tuttle
Director of Government & Law Enforcement Affairs
Taser International

 

February 22, 2002

Dear Steve,

Received your e-mail inquiry re: January 10th invoice, stating that you have no idea what this invoice is for.

Let me clarify things for you, Steve.

I am a science fiction author. This means I invent the future. SF writers wrote about rocketships—we got them. Cell phones—ta da. Tricorders from Star Trek are basically Palm Pilots.

I have used the word “Taser” in my novel seven times. Admittedly, the people that have them are the unthinking guardians of evil corporations, and often use them on homeless people and cyclists, but I have guaranteed the future of your product—at least until the year 2036, when the novel is set.

Frankly, you need this kind of exposure. The Taser might have been scary in the ’80s, but now it’s been upstaged in the media by tear gas. Recently, a television show of the extreme genre showed your product being less painful than pepper spray. Pepper spray, Steve, something that doesn’t even look like a gun! Your “proprietary technology to incapacitate dangerous, combative, or high-risk subjects that may be impervious to other less-lethal means” is falling out of fashion—but only if you let it.

Your forward-thinking attitude, something I look for in my corporate partners, is obvious from your internet presence—I especially enjoyed the video featuring the takedown of the naked black man on PCP. I’ve never seen a product demonstration quite like it.

Hoping you’ll help me to help you,

Jim Munroe

To U.P.S.

February 22, 2002

Dear Sir or Madam:

I regretfully enclose a past due notice for an invoice I sent January 10th, 2002.

I say “regretfully” because of all companies, I expected you to promptly deliver the cheque—not just because of what your company does, but because of what it didn’t do. I hope I don’t ruffle any feathers when I say it: Cast Away.

Now, the fact that your brown-suited employees are more often seen on the screen than postal workers makes it clear that UPS believes in the power of product placement. That Cast Away featured Tom Hanks as a FedEx employee must have been hard to deal with. Especially when you found out that they didn’t pay a cent for the ninety-minute commercial, just provided props. So naturally, I thought you’d jump at the chance to beat FedEx to a new frontier: product placement in books.

In the book, you’ll be interested to know, a character calls UPS for a locksmith—that’s right, in the year 2036 UPS delivers services instead of packages. It was only a matter of time before the paperless society became more than hype, but your company obviously made the transition successfully.

To sweeten the deal, I can write in a dramatic gun-fight between a heroic UPS deliveryman and a craven FedEx flunky but only if you remit your cheque quickly. The US edition is going to press very soon.

I have faith you won’t cast away this golden opportunity,
Jim Munroe

To McDonald’s

February 22, 2002

Dear Sir or Madam:

I am writing in reference to an invoice dated January 10th that is now past due.

I suspect that you get a lot of mail at a company of your size, and so I imagine it was a mere oversight on your part—perhaps it was misrouted to Ronald McDonald, although I clearly marked it “ATTN: ACCOUNTS PAYABLE.” Or perhaps that Hamburgler is at it again.

Ha ha. That was a joke.

“Ha ha” always looks so stiff in print, doesn’t it? “Hee hee” or “he he he” sound, to my ear, high pitched and maniacal. The emoticons, ;-) and such, look out of place on a business letter—a little too casual or something.

Ideally, I wouldn’t have to say anything—you’d know it was a joke. But as we have no previous contact, I’m forced to be explicit—I can’t have you thinking that I believe that your cartoon mascots are real, although I’m sure many children think/hope they are.

And I, sir or madam, am not a child, although I hope I retain a child’s sense of wonder. I am in fact a science fiction novelist and my invoice is in every way an adult’s invoice, and I expect to be paid.

I think you’ll be pleased by McDonald’s as it appears in Everyone In Silico—not much has changed by 2036, except that people order their Big Mac and Fries (should that be capitalized?) at an ATM style machine. You’re welcome to implement this idea for free, once you’ve paid the invoice. No more having to close down an outlet for costly days when a staff tries to unionize!

Have a good day,
Jim Munroe

To Gap

February 22, 2002

Dear Sir or Madam:

I am writing because you have failed to pay for the services rendered as detailed in the January 10th invoice.

Maybe your accounting department is in the same country as many of your clothing factories, and this accounts for the delay. Regardless, I will take this opportunity to impress upon you the advantages you may have overlooked in having your brand appear in a novel.

While there’s only three brand impressions in the novel, the title, Everyone In Silico, is an obvious nod to your “EVERYONE IN LEATHER/VESTS/DENIM” ad series. (I’ve thrown that in for free, by the way.) It was unfortunate that so many artists and writers latched on to the fascist overtones of such a bold slogan, and made it seem like you were trying to turn us into consumer-clone zombie-Nazis. But think about that for a second—who are these people, anyway? Who are these people that think of Hitler when they think of the Gap instead of the good, happy models dancing across their TV screen? Who find something sinister in fresh-faced lovelies dancing to tasteful break beats?

They’re book readers.

And ponder this: who are these people who are complaining about “sweatshops,” who are so concerned that your employees overseas have running water and don’t have to bring their sleeping bags to work? Who are these greasy-faced, ugly losers fucking with your bottom line with their boycotts and investigative journalism?

They’re book readers, too.

It’s a small demographic, but can you afford to overlook it?

Yours truly,
Jim Munroe

 

Received April 4, 2002

Dear Vendor:

We are returning the attached invoice(s) because we are unable to process it. An invoice must be signed and coded by the GAP employee/department Purchasing the product/service before payment can be initiated and Processed.

Invoices should not be sent directly to Accounts Payable.

Please address ALL invoices to the appropriate GAP Inc. employee or Department responsible as follows:

GAP Inc.
900 Cherry Avenue
San Bruno, CA 94066
ATTN: (Name of your contact/Dept.)

If you have any questions, please call your point of contact.

Thank you, for your anticipated understanding and compliance.

Sincerely,
The Gap Inc.
Accounts Payable

Jim Munroe has written graphic novels and prose novels praised by Pulitzer-winner Junot Diaz and comics legend Neil Gaiman, and lo-fi sci-fi feature films applauded by Wired and the Guardian. His political video games have appeared at Sundance and Cannes, and he co-founded the world's first videogame arts organization. He was an Art Gallery of Ontario Artist-in-Residence in 2014. He has contributed to the magazine since 2001. Last updated Winter, 2019โ€“2020.
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