When the engineering team at VeebCo formulated the most elegant and revolutionary electronic design ever conceived for a Veeblefetzer, they were too excited to contain themselves. They were seen dancing in their lab coats and attempting handshakes far too complicated for any white man to execute successfully.
Word of the breakthrough leaked upstairs to the executive suites. Before the engineers could put their embryonic design back under wraps, a pride of marketing lions, their eyes glistening with yuletide greed, had descended upon the lab.
Head Veeblefetzer engineer, Fred Frawley, met this onslaught by urging caution. "All we have is a prototype," he insisted. But he could not conceal the fact that this prototype could run circles around the SuperVeeb, a design that only 14 months before had taken the Veeblefetzer market by storm.
"It still has a few bugs. It's too costly to mass produce," said Frawley. "We haven't tested it in real-world conditions."
But Marketing VP Vance Velvett was undeterred. "Great!" he said. "De-bug the hell out of this beauty! Test it, streamline it, slap on a paint job and have it ready by Christmas. OK, big fella? Go for it! Let's roll!"
"Christmas?" protested Frawley. "It's already September. We couldn't begin to do all that by Christmas."
Velvett, however, was on a roll. "We'll call this baby UltraVeeb. Every kid in America is gonna be so excited they'll be threatening their moms and dads with hunger strikes and suicide attacks if they can't get their very own UltraVeeb from Santa. This is gonna be HUGE!"
Crawley tried to calm Vance Velvett. "Even if we solve all the materials and production problems, we can't possibly build enough units before Christmas!"
Vance Velvett asked, "Are you sure?" Frawley said, "Absolutely!"
Velvett said, "GREAT! This could turn out better than Play Station3, better than Wii, better than — be still, my heart —Cabbage Patch Kids! We could be hip-deep in the greatest 'hot toy' shortage in holiday history. Picture it! Lines of parents stretching twice around Wal-Mart at 3 a.m. Moms mugging one another in the KayBee Toys parking lot. Riots. Massacres! The first family on the block with a mint-edition UltraVeeb will have to hire Blackwater to keep the neighbors from storming their rumpus room!"
The engineers appealed to VeebCo CEO Wilbur "Veeb" Ewbank. He was torn between the immutable realities of R&D, and a stockholder "community" clamoring for another consumer-product "home run." If Ewbank couldn't come through, the Board would cut him off at the knees. He'd be forced to retire with barely $40 million and the villa in Monaco to his name. And VeebCo would probably have to close its last two domestic manufacturing plants in Akron and Baltimore.
Vance Velvett assured the CEO that the mere announcement of UltraVeeb would double VeebCo's stock price. Production shortfalls could be finessed, as long as one UltraVeeb came off the line by Thanksgiving. Ewbank had no choice. He gave UltraVeeb the go-ahead.
The only skeptics were the engineers, who somehow had to squeeze 10 gigabytes of veeble power — without adding cost — into a SuperVeeb chassis.
By Thanksgiving, America was buzzing over a half-dozen "consumer-generated" YouTube videos (with suspiciously high production values) that depicted kids veeblefetzing with such grace, speed, pleasure and sensuality that several megachurch evangelists spoke up to condemn UltraVeeb as the handiwork of the devil.
Other VeebCo marketers advocated a bigger ad budget, beyond Vance Velvett's daring "viral" YouTube marketing approach. But Velvett stuck with word-of-mouth as the lead strategy. "People don't trust ads," he told his team. "They hate corporations and they've given up on TV. But they believe each other's Internet posts implicitly even though they know everyone on the Web is operating under a phony identity. They know — in real life — that most other people are idiots, but on the Web — somehow — everybody's St. Francis of Assisi. It's never been easier to sell something — anything! — in America. I tell ya, guys, I have found God, and his name is Google!"
On the Sunday after Thanksgiving, the first UltraVeeb queue appeared outside a Toys R Us in Atlanta. Within 48 hours, an estimated 5.6 million American parents were calling in sick to stake out the veeblefetzer departments at K-Mart, Sears, Best Buy, Target and every other consumer electronics outlet in the U.S.A.
Two days later, Frawley reported that the lab was unable to make a workable UltraVeeb for less than $26,000. They wouldn't get close to the Christmas deadline.
"GREAT!" exulted Vance Velvett. "Thank your whole team. Now, take the rest of the holidays off. You did a magnificent job!"
A moment later, Vance Velvett was ordering VeebCo's software engineering division to patch together a SuperVeeb upgrade that would turn it from semiautomatic to automatic. The engineers hesitated, worried that the upgrade — although technically feasible — might result in power overloads and flux degradations that could be hazardous. Frawley's hardware team agreed with this warning.
Quickly, Vance Velvett called Legal, who concluded that the cost/benefit analysis favored the SuperVeeb upgrade by a factor of 3:2, which Accounting computed as a net positive revenue balance of $410 million.
"No-brainer," concluded Velvett. "We've got an inventory of 25 million SuperVeebs to unload. You guys either put out the upgrade or empty out your desks."
The next day, VeebCo announced that everyone queuing up for an UltraVeeb console would be able, immediately, to buy an "Extra SuperVeeb-Plus," with an add-on automatic-firing capability, titanium flux suppressors and stratocast stabilization — all for only $299. Best of all, each purchase would entitle the buyer to a FREE trade-up to UltraVeeb, redeemable as soon as the temporary production backup ended, in "early January."
Everything fell beautifully into place. Within six hours, 20 million Extra SuperVeeb-Pluses, with software mimicking the future performance of UltraVeeb, the ultimate veeblefetzer, flew off the shelves.
It wasn't until late morning on December 26 that the first cost/benefit factor, a nine-year-old boy in Enid, Oklahoma, named Timothy "Tiny Tim" Cratchit, was horribly disfigured by shrapnel from an exploding Extra SuperVeeb-Plus.
David Benjamin is a novelist and journalist who splits his time between New York and Paris. He writes occasionally for EE Times on technology subjects, usually from the Luddite point of view.