A light-hearted bit of improbability, being my entry for the 2021 Literotica Geek Pride Story Event.
Just keep in mind that nobody, no company in our society, would ever behave this way.
“Hey,” I whispered, eyes glued to the screen in front of me.
…. slender hand flowing over a bare shoulder, a slim waist…
“Hey, explain something to me.”
… finger trailing along the cleft of a fine, firm bottom…
Beside me, he shook himself slightly, like a dog emerging from a dream-filled sleep.
…fingers tangled in dark hair…
“Whatzit?” he mumbled, half-turning his head. His eyes were still fixed on the same screen.
… soft lips pulled against soft lips…
“Why are boys so into two girls making out?” For some reason, it seemed very important to me, absolutely critical.
…eyes closed, nostrils straining to find needed air…
The screen was showing us what; I needed to know why.
…hard nipples under soft fingers…
Eyes locked on the sinuous images, he didn’t respond.
Smith had been right. This was extraordinary.
Back a bit…
“Can I see you in my office for a few minutes, please? Sorry about the short notice.”
Richard was a good boss — straightforward, honest, helpful when needed — and pushy when that was needed, too. I’d learned a lot from him.
I looked at my phone — 11 AM. I had nothing else scheduled.
“Sure,” I replied. “What’s up?”
“I’ll tell you there,” he said, vanishing down the hallway.
I picked up my tablet and followed him. Waiting in his office were he and a second man.
“Betts, Peter, do you know each other?” Richard asked.
Well, every woman in the North American Airline Advisory Agency knew of Peter. The guy was gorgeous — tall, blonde curly hair, a close-cropped, barely-there beard and mustache, broad shoulders, good tight buns — he was every girl’s GQ dream. I had, on the other hand, never really met him. I was pretty sure he did something with IT, but couldn’t have told you what.
I stuck out my hand. “Elizabeth Henning. Call me ‘Betts’.”
His handshake was cautiously strong. “Pete Wagner,” he said. “Call me ‘Pete’.”
He had a good grin, amazingly white teeth and a decent laugh. I took a quick look at his other hand. Nope, no ring. There was hope left in the world.
We’d no sooner sat down than the door opened without knocking. Amy Fujimura entered, the corporate Legal Department personified, all four foot eleven inches of her. Amy had been with the agency since Richard had launched it; it was rumored she’d turned down a chair at Harvard Law to stay here.
She smiled briefly at Richard and handed him a file containing two apparently-identical documents. He glanced briefly at them before passing one to me and one to Pete.
I wasn’t particularly surprised to see my name and other details already printed in the appropriate spaces. I was however intrigued to see that it was a legal non-disclosure agreement. I’d already done one of those for the Agency. I looked up to Richard.
“Just sign it, Betts.”
“Give them a moment, Richard,” Amy said. “I don’t want there to be any question of them being hurried into signing without full understanding.”
I looked more carefully at it. It was the usual legal boilerplate, no details as what I as promising not to disclose, death and misery to the betrayer unto the seventh generation and so forth.
“The Agency is starting something a bit different,” Richard said. “We four are the only ones in on it.”
I caught Peter’s eyes flicking towards Amy. She just smiled. Amy could inscrutable a cat.
“I would suggest you sign it,” she said. “Opportunity knocks but once.”
I shrugged, saw a pen on the round table and scrawled my signature. Peter followed.
Amy gathered up the two forms, witnessed them both and tucked them into her folder.
“Will that be all, Richard?” she asked.
“Put those someplace safe,” he told her.
“I’ll put them in the same place I keep candid photos of you and your boyfriends,” she smiled.
“Must be a big safe,” Richard laughed.
“Big enough,” she chuckled, pulling the door shut behind her.
Richard looked at Peter and I.
“Ever heard of Twin Chimeras Advertising?” he asked.
Peter gave a mild shrug. Not his area, obviously.
I had, on the other hand, had heard of them. Well, sort of. It was more rumor than solid fact. Twin Chimeras was talked of in industry circles as this mysterious, invisible manipulator of public purchasing trends. I said so.
“They’re real enough,” Richard said, “just hard to track down.”
“Don’t call us, we’ll call you?” Peter quipped.
Richard glanced at him. “Precisely. But now they’re working for us.”
Peter and I glanced at each other for a moment. So?
Richard Çankaya Escort looked at the clock on the wall. “We’ve got a few minutes,” he said. “Let me give you some background.
“The pandemic put a serious set of boots to the airline industry. And the 737 crash fiasco didn’t help in the slightest. Paying customers are, by industry figures, down 78% from where they were two years ago.”
I nodded. It was hardly a secret.
“There’s some light on the horizon,” he said, a faint, hopeful smile barely visible. “The fight against COVID is starting to turn in our favor. Most predictions show a distinct easing of restrictions in the next little while.”
I crossed my fingers under the table.
“A lot of people and business have taken a beating.” he continued. “Restaurants, bars, transportation, esthetics, fitness, the oil sector, most bricks-and-mortar places — they’ve all been whupped six times from Sunday. On the other hand, some people have done relatively OK — delivery firms, on-line sales, accountants, brewers, engineering, telecom firms. Some ‘big-kid toy stores’ have made out surprisingly well – places selling bicycles, skateboards, skis and camping gear, for instance. In short, while a lot of people have been seriously hurt, there are quite a few folks who have continued to earn money without having had an opportunity to get out and spend it. I’ve seen one estimate of over a hundred billion waiting in people’s pockets and purses, just waiting for when daylight comes.”
It was pretty clear where he was going.
“And the ‘N-4-A’ wants to find a better way of encouraging them to spend it on flying?” I guessed.
Richard nodded. “Air fares, hotels, tours — it’s all tied in. The industry needs a boost right now and the public is still hesitant.”
“So, why Twin Chimeras?” I asked.
He grinned. “They’ve done some strong stuff, Betts. Remarkable stuff.”
“Two years ago, Baccarri Motors was just one small auto company in Italy. Good cars – damned good sports cars – but totally overshadowed by Ferrari, Lotus, Maserati and the other big kids. T.C.A. met with them and demand went nuts. Jacopo Baccarri has opened a second plant to keep up.”
I nodded, getting more interested. There’d been speculation about that in the marketing world. There hadn’t been a standard ad campaign, but I hadn’t heard of T.C.A. being mentioned, either. Sales had certainly soared, though. Odd.
“Another example,” Richard said. “Three Tulips Vineyard in California. Good wine, medals, awards, but they never caught the swell of public enthusiasm. Then, earlier this year…”
My breath caught. About three months ago, for some reason I couldn’t quite figure out at the time, I had tried my first bottle of Three Tulips pinot noir. T.T. was now my standard brand.
I was very definitely interested now.
“… their sales have doubled and they’re anticipating still faster growth in the next six months.”
There was a knock at the door. Richard glanced at the clock. “Right on time.” Rather than call to whoever it was to come in, he went and opened the door himself.
The man who entered was as undistinguished as you could imagine. A single-breasted suit, expensive enough, but not quite pressed, good shoes but a bit scuffed, thinning red hair, pale eyes. He looked like he’d just got off a long flight. He carried a big, old-fashioned briefcase and wore a face mask.
Well, that was OK; we were all wearing one, yes?
Richard motioned our guest to a chair, introduced us all, calling him ‘Mr. Smith’.
“Mr. Smith represents Twin Chimeras Advertising,” Richard said. “I talked to him last week; I’m sold, so he’s here today to brief you two on T.C.A.’s core competencies and abilities.” He motioned his hand toward the visitor.
“Thanks,” Smith said. It was a nice voice, but didn’t match the calculating eyes above the mask.
“Twin Chimeras,” he said, “started operations three years ago, based on some advanced computer algorithms developed by our founders.”
I noticed he didn’t name them.
“Broadly speaking, those algorithms can be used to give advertisers a serious edge, a psychological advantage.”
His eyes flipped back and forth between us.
“Have either of you ever heard of subliminal advertising?” he asked.
I spoke up. “It was mentioned in one of my psych classes in university. Many of the claims were fake, most of the attempts proved ineffective and what was left got effectively banned by the F.C.C. Try it and lose your broadcasting licence.”
“Mmm,” Smith nodded. “As very brief summary, yes.”
“But let me expand on that just a little,” he continued. “A book in the ’50s claimed that drive-in movie theaters — very popular at the time — had spliced single frames into the movies they were showing with slogans like ‘Drink Coke’ or ‘Buy Popcorn’. The book claimed that refreshment Keçiören Escort sales had skyrocketed. It was a hoax, total fiction, but the public got quite indignant. Understandably.
“There’ve been a few other cases since then, some dubious, some that look pretty solid. A major distillery ran a gin ad with three ice cubes in a tall glass next to one of their bottles. The ice cubes looked very much like somebody had airbrushed them with the letters S — E — X. ‘Our gin is sexy’, right? The distillery denied it, of course. Sales jumped a bit, but it could have just been the news exposure.
“There’ve been other tries at it, but it’s never really been effective. Nobody had found the right way to work it, until now.”
“And you have?” Peter asked, curious now.
The man nodded. He opened his case, brought out a large laptop, turned it on.
“Here,” he said. “Have a look.” He swiveled it around towards us.
The video showed a couple dining in a restaurant, the corporate logo at the bottom right corner – The Acropolis. The place seemed nice enough, but the video was just a couple eating a meal, nothing special. Although there was no sound, we could see them talking. They ate, drank; the waiter moved about.
“Um,” Peter said tentatively. “What are we supposed to be looking at?”
Smith glanced at the screen.
“Oops,” he apologized. “Wrong video. I have the right one on a thumb drive. Give me a minute.” He began to root around in the briefcase.
A moment later, another couple, another restaurant – Chez Delphis.
Smith sounded frustrated. “Sorry, I’m sure I put it in here this morning…”
The scene shifted again, and again. Just ordinary people eating in nice restaurants. Each clip lasted maybe 15 or 20 seconds.
After several tedious minutes, Smith gave up his fumbling, closed the laptop with a sigh and stuffed it back into his case.
“This is most embarrassing,” he muttered. His face seemed flushed.
“It happens,” Richard said, in an easy-going tone.
Smith looked at his watch.
“Look, it’s lunch time,” he remarked. “How about we finish this over lunch? I think I can justify putting it on the company card to make amends.”
Richard nodded softly, Peter a little more enthusiastically.
“I am hungry,” I said. I was, too, more so than normal.
Smith looked at Peter and me. “Can you suggest a place?” he asked. “Any favorites? I’m from out of town.”
I thought, hesitated.
Richard sat back in his chair, looking at Smith.
“Tell you what,” the latter said softly. “How about you write out the name of any place in town? My treat.” He reached into his case again, this time not fumbling. He pushed two scraps of paper at us.
I looked at it, found the pen on the table and quickly scrawled my choice.
Smith took it from me, collected another from Peter. Smiling, he turned them up, side by side, on the table.
Both of them said the same thing – Chez Delphis.
Smith sat back in his chair. I could feel his smile even through the mask. Hey, Presto!
“A very simple demonstration,” he said, “using you as test subjects. Sorry about no informed consent and such, but it was pretty harmless. I know that a sample size of just two may not be all that convincing, but I assure you that it would have been the same if there were a dozen people here, or a thousand.
“While I was pretending to look in my briefcase, you two were watching more-or-less identical videos of people dining in six different restaurants, all selected for about the same clientele, the same price range, similar décor and so forth. Not much to choose between them.
“The difference lay in what we at T.C.A. call the ‘wash’. One of the six clips has been ‘washed’.”
“Just so it’s clear,” Richard interrupted, looking at Peter and I, “we’re now well and truly into non-disclosure territory.” He looked at Smith, nodded.
“The original concept of subliminal advertising was sound enough,” the latter continued, “even if the methodology was flawed to the point of being worthless.”
I was puzzled. “I thought you agreed that subliminal ads didn’t work.”
“They haven’t,” Smith said. I could see Richard look at the ceiling, smiling softly in agreement.
“That said, the first lesson any ad writer learns is ‘Sex Sells’. There is, of course, a limit on how sexy one can get. The closer you get to that invisible line, the more likely that people will find it offensive. It’s a conscious thing. You can see it on people’s faces — That’s disgusting! Past a certain point, the ad will have a negative effect.”
I nodded. Every ad exec knows that.
“So?” Peter asked. Peter worked with software, not people.
“The key takeaway from that is the word ‘conscious’, Peter. People get upset if they are consciously aware of something pushing their boundaries.”
“Subconscious!” I said Etimesgut Escort suddenly. “You’ve found a real way of running sublimal…”
I stopped talking, looked at him.
“Bingo,” Smith said softly.
“It’s a question of overlaying appealing — by which, yes, I do mean erotic — images and clips on normal videos and such. A viewer winds up, in effect, watching two videos without even being aware of the existence of the second. Deep down inside, beyond free will, beyond conscious beliefs and personality, everybody likes sex, everybody can be influenced by it.”
“But people would catch that!” I protested. “Not immediately, perhaps, but sooner or later, some movie geek is going to start looking closely at individual segments.”
“Not necessarily. In 1999, Disney pulled the home version of a children’s cartoon which contained very brief images of a topless, very human woman.”
My eyebrows rose.
“It was real,” Smith continued, nodding. “The images had somehow been inserted into two consecutive frames, probably as a joke. Disney denied responsibility, but they recalled literally millions of copies all the same. But here’s an interesting thing – Disney yanked the cartoon 20 years after it had been released and in all that time, not one customer had noticed.
“In any case,” he continued, “our system uses something else, something new. Again, this is proprietary and I’m not going to get into the ‘how’ of it, but anybody recording a washed video will only get the primary, the original. To a three-decimal certainty level. The wash just won’t record, not unless you actually know it’s there and use some very special tools.”
“I don’t really see what this gets you,” I objected. “Let’s agree for the purpose of discussion that you can do that. All that would do is – maybe – make people happier about whatever program they’re watching, make them like it more. How does that tie in with specific brands or ideas, the stuff you want to push?”
“Here’s where it gets sophisticated,” Smith replied smoothly. “The wash, the erotic content, is only presented when the original, the primary, is showing whatever we’re trying to boost. Your basic case, the airline industry, is actually a simple exercise.
“Whenever an image of an airplane is shown on the screen, the wash will automatically kick in. Provided the primary isn’t showing something negative like a crash or a hijacking, any time an airplane appears – in a movie, a weekly series, an ad, a documentary or even the news – the wash will be there, for a second, a minute or an hour. If the airplane goes away, the wash instantly goes away too, only to return the instant an airplane appears again.”
Peter shook his head. “I don’t buy it,” he said to Richard. “Can’t happen.”
“Why not?” Smith asked. “Humor me.”
“Its impossible!” Peter stated flatly. “I can see it if you controlled the original videos, but externally superimposing a second video on everything being streamed or shown, everywhere? No way. There are layers upon layers of safeties and security protocols. And the computer power it would take! I doubt even the N.S.A. has computers remotely close to being that powerful, that sophisticated.”
Smith waited, motionless. Peter eventually tailed off.
“Think back to Samuel Morse’s first telegraph,” Smith said gently. “Morse got a United States patent in 1840. The telegraph was hi-tech for the day, incredibly useful and just 10 years later, there were over 12,000 miles of telegraph line in the U.S. Yet there was a critical weakness inherent in the concept. Each telegraph line was basically just one copper wire. Only one station on that line could send a message at any given time; a second key operating at the same time scrambled everything. There was, using computer terminology, something approaching a bandwidth problem, but all it took to solve that was the right spark of genius. In 1874, Thomas Edison invented a way of sending four signals at once, on the same wire. That was the first crack in the dam. Others followed.”
He paused. “It’s a slender analogy, but it will serve. We found a way, Mr. Wagner. Just accept that. Edison found a way to use an existing system and existing equipment more efficiently. So have we.”
“And this actually works?” I demanded. “It makes people want to buy or do or whatever?” I thought of the half bottle of chardonnay in my refrigerator.
“Sex sells,” Smith nodded. “We ran focus groups, tests, trial exposures with controlled participants — without explaining our purpose, of course. Some of them saw unaltered, unwashed versions, others saw the washed ones. There was a statistically very significant — as high as 63 percent, in some cases – alteration of preferences in the intended direction.”
“And this works for everybody?” I asked.
“Demographically, that increase is across the board. Race doesn’t seem to matter and all adult age groups show much the same reaction.
“Religion doesn’t seem to make a difference, either. Test subjects who self-identified as devout still seemed to be swayed, regardless of their faith. Sex is burned into our reptilian brains. Again, no matter how moral an individual may be, no matter how hard they try to push it down, at a subconscious level, everybody is interested in sex.