When Joe took over Atomic he’d hired a new salesman. The ad said: “artistic experience preferred.” He didn’t want to say talent; that would narrow it down. There weren’t too many boys in the grip-and-grin line who could draw the girl on the match, he’d thought.
He thought about the girl on the matchbook for a while.
Then he’d looked at the copy for the ad, figured “experience” might bring in anyone from a guy who could draw to someone who’d studied art and knew what came when, and why. Well, see what we get.
He got Clarence Latimer. Clarence wasn’t like the firm’s old salesmen, all hearty bluff and heya sport, the kind of cliches you expect to take a client aside, turn his tie around and show him the hand-painted nudie. Clarence was quiet and serious and rarely smiled. He had horn-rimmed glasses and a small mouth and small ears, and Joe thought it wouldn’t take too strong a spell to turn him into a mouse in a library, reading a book about cheese. An apprentice magician would practice on something like that. Clarence was so different from the others he’d given him more time in the interview than he expected, just to see why this guy thought he could sell. Turns out he could. He sold me, Joe thought.
His approach was scientific. That was the word he liked to use. There is a science to this in the modern age, and once the customer knows the science, they trust the people who taught it to them. So Clarence went out armed with studies from trade journals, demographics, census materials. He conducted his own research down at the cafe some days, where he was known as the Professor to his face, and Junior Professor behind his back. Joe had wondered why he sold something as minor and meaningless as promotions; why wasn’t he in New York working for a big ad firm? But he hadn’t asked, and Clarence never gave any indication he wanted something else. The only clue was something he’d said the first week:
“Matches,” he said, “are the only form of advertising that does something for you, and it has nothing to do with what they’re selling.” Whether he thought that was a challenge or an advantage was something Joe was still waiting to hear. Personally, he thought it was both.
Doesn’t always have to be one or the other, but that wasn’t scientific.
“Afternoon,” Clarence said. He walked over to Joe’s desk and sat down. “How has business been.”
“It’s been the same. Got an order yesterday for some bowling alley matches, and they want CIs.”
Clarence nodded. Comical Illustrations. Joe hated them. Clarence thought they were useful.
“Interesting you mention that. I found something the first day I was out on the run.” He opened his briefcase, rummaged through some envelopes - Joe could see they were all numbered with big black letters - then withdrew #7. He opened it up and placed the match on Joe’s desk as if it was evidence that would crack the murder case wide open.
“Hillbillies,” he said.
Joe looked at the front: stock design, customized, and not very well; the letters didn’t flow right in the ribbon. Standard spine, choose from one of a hundred, sir, very good. Then the back.
“Yeah, that’s hillbillies.”
“I think hillbillies are going to be big in the next few years. It’s just a hunch. There’s the influence of Li’l Abner, of course -”
“But there’s also something else. The more everyone moves to the cities, the more the small towns get big, the more people like to think of the rural folk, and romanticize them. Now there’s nothing funny about Farmer Brown. But hillbillies, fussing and feuding, that’s always funny. I believe I saw a Bugs Bunny cartoon about it a while ago as well, but of course that doesn’t mean it’s a trend. Still, I would like to see if there’s a series of hillbilly CIs we could license, and add them to the portfolio. Right now all we have are cheesecakes and comical hunting scenes, and those have limited application.”
Joe nodded. “I see your point. Tell me, what’s going on here?”
“They are trying to arrange a truce so one of them can use the bathroom.”
“That’s right. So. One of the McCoys has a Hatfield cornered in an outhouse. And he wants to use the can - you can see he has the wishbook in his hand there. He’s waving the truce flag.”
“That would seem to be the story, yes.”
“Mmm-hmm. So someone sits at the bar, or the restaurant in this case, and they look at this, and a few things come to mind: one, what’s keeping the hillbilly from crapping in the woods? He’s a hillbilly. Two, who builds an outhouse on a hill? Three, what does ‘headin’ for the hills’ mean? Four, do I really want to be sitting in a restaurant waiting for my burger, thinking about a smelly outhouse and some old guy who’s going to wipe his ass with the Sears-Roebuck?”
Clarence was already white, but he went a shade whiter.
“You’d have to pick the right client, of course.”
“I hate CIs. I always have. They’re never funny. A woman is sitting on a chair, a dog pulls her skirt, and the motto says ‘Doggone pretty’ or something. I don’t mind the cheesecakes, they sell plenty, but the jokes we can do without.” He sighed and leaned back. He was right about CIs but he knew he was wrong, too. “But you want to beat the bushes out in the territories for bars that might want to stock up on hillbilly jokes, you can take a week and drive around with your sample case. I’ll call up Johnson and have him send over some sheets on spec.”
“Do you mind if I go to his office and look at what he has?”
“No, I don’t mind. Just run it past me when you decide.”
“I will. So. Do you want a written report on the trip, or just the short version?”
“Short is fine.”
Clarence had been on the road for four days. He had brought in 27 new clients, mostly bars. Joe grinned and congratulated himself for his excellent choice, and asked how he’d done it.
“I showed them a variety of options, mostly one-color stock, and then I’d show them #7, and that seemed to turn the tide.”
Clarence tapped the hillbilly match. “Worked best in the rural areas,” he said. “If you look at the numbers, 28% of the residents in towns off a main trunk line still have an outdoor commode.”
“They’re not all hillbilly CI accounts.”
Clarence actually smiled. “Only half.” Then he held up his hands, palm out. “Rounding up.”