Marcus John Henry Brown erzählt bei W&V die fiktive, aber beunruhigend realistisch erscheinende Geschichte der Agentur namens Black Operative Department.
Text: W&V Redaktion
13. Januar 2020
Er ist der Besucher aus Digital Dystopia. Marcus John Henry Browns Weg führte vom Künstler zum Werber und zurück. Heute ist er als Mentor und Berater sehr gefragt, vor allem aber als Live Act mit seinen Performance Hacks. "Wenn Sie wissen wollen, wo das alles hinführen könnte, sehen Sie sich mal die grandiose Performance von Marcus John Henry Brown bei der re:publica an", hat der Spiegel seinen Lesern geraten. Munich Marketing Week, ADC, Medientage, D-Pulse - Brown zeichnet wortgewaltig seine Bilder von der Welt und der Zukunft. Dabei spielt immer seine Vergangenheit als Werber eine zentrale Rolle - und dabei das Black Operative Department, die Abteilung für schwarze Agenten. Diese fiktive Organisation (oder auch: Agentur) spielt eine zentrale Rolle in Browns Performance-Kosmos. Durch sie wird die Frage beantwortet, wer die Welt zerstört und warum. Das Black Operative Department steht auch im Mittelpunkt einer Serie von Marcus John Henry Brown, die ab heute exklusiv auf W&V erscheint. Blow Up The Dog ist eine Serie über die erfolgreichste Kommunikationsagentur der Welt, von der man noch nie gehört hat. Die Geschichten über die Agentur auf der dunklen Seite der Macht werde im Original veröffentlicht, also in englischer Sprache.
Episode 3: Emergency Agency All-Hands
Nathan Banfield was sitting in his control room. It was his favourite place: dark, large, comfortable and glowing in the light of computer screens. He had once made the mistake of boasting about his morning routine: how he would rise early, kiss his fictitious wife on the forehead, shower and groom himself and, having made himself an artisan coffee, how he would descend into this room. It was a fiction, of course, as was the LinkedIn account he had used to brag about his imaginary hustler life, but the part about how the sensors in the room would recognize him and how the screens would spring to life when he entered the room, that bit was actually true.
The room wasn‘t in his home and it wasn‘t in a basement. It was on the 34th floor of Tower 1 of the Highlight Towers in Munich. Officially this tower only had thirty-three floors. It actually had thirty-five. The two invisible floors belonged to The Black Operatives Department. Tower 1 was its global HQ. No one knew why.
Nathan sat at his desk in the centre of the room. It was a small desk. There was nothing on the desk except for an iPad, a glass and a pitcher full of sparkling mineral water and a black button that was encased in a crystal glass box. A single spotlight from the ceiling lit Nathan and the desk from above and gave the scene a mood that always reminded Nathan of the scene in Omen 3 where Damien is in his private quarters cursing the Nazarene and praying to his satanic father.
There is only one hell - the leaden monotony of human existence.
The desk was surrounded on three sides by walls filled with screens. There wasn‘t a cable in sight. The wall behind the desk, the floor and the ceiling were covered in a thick black carpet. The acoustics were perfect. It would have been the perfect place, thought Nathan, to produce a mediocre podcast.
If only I could. If only I had something to say. If only I had something that I was allowed to say!
There had been a time when this room would have been every brand manager‘s wet dream. The screens, full of scrolling data, sentiment analyses and targets - both hit and missed - appearing like small atomic explosions on endlessly spinning algorithmic globes. Some of his sales staff had told him that if The Black Operatives Department ever decided to come out of the darkness and reveal themselves to the rest of the business world that this room, his room, would be the thing that they‘d be most interested in.
Everybody loves a war-room. Tolle Corpus Satani! Ave!
He spent hours watching the sentiment screens to the left of his desk and how they tracked and displayed the emotions of the markets they had been mandated to impact: belonging, rebellion and the sense of community in Hong Kong and fanaticism, nationalism and a sense of God-like righteousness in the United States. So many countries, so many campaigns and so many secrets.
Too many secrets.
So many emotions. Each screen was throbbing with the will of the people. It soothed him to think that each of these human nodes was being modelled and controlled by him, even if his clients thought that they were in control.
I am in control. Always.
The central wall of his room was made up of nine large screens. Each screen was split into two parts. The left side of the screen was streaming the international news that The Black Operatives Department had either created from scratch or had at least caused with one of their campaigns. The right side of the screen was tracking the creative and strategic teams responsible for the campaign; the key performance indicators; and campaign performance as well as bonus payments and kick-backs.
The right side wall of Nathan‘s control room was again split into nine larger screens but bundled into three sections. The top three screens were dedicated to tracking the activities of his advertising operatives. The middle three screens were dedicated to the account management team and their up-selling activities, alongside the general new business performance of the agency. The final three screens at the bottom followed global agency news, creative talent and international campaigns. It was here that Nathan spotted future operatives and kept an eye on what Sir Martin Sorrell was up to.
It had been there, on those screens that he had fallen in love with the idea of owning Penelope Cavendish.
The power and control of the top three screens excited Nathan. The distance to his advertising brothers and sisters on the bottom three screens left him feeling melancholy. He would never belong to them. He’d never go to Cannes: never sip Rose, chat about cocaine, and bitch about Deloitte and Accenture on the beaches and yachts of the Côte d'Azur. The Black Operatives Department was the world’s most successful agency that the advertising and communications industry had never heard of.
And he was hopelessly trapped in it. He’d never been recruited: no one had ever turned him to the dark side. No, operatives hadn’t discovered him at university or spotted his work at an award show and poached him away from a promising advertising career to guide him into the inner circle of covert advertising life that they simply called The Darkness. He had never made a conscious decision to walk away from agencies like Weiden + Kennedy, Saatchi & Saatchi or Jung von Matt because it was never destined to work at places like that. He had always been destined to join his father at The Table of Faces.
He’d been born into The Black Operatives Department. Daddy was a founding member. Daddy was the Head Face at The Table of Faces.
He so wanted to belong to the industry news. He wanted to see his face in AdAge, Campaign, WUV or The Drum, but he was stuck in his dubstep-shed, thirty-five stories above the Bavarian capital creating cutting-edge communications that were literally changing the world with one dark, covert campaign after the other and no one would ever know that he was the genius behind it all.
Those bottom three screens made him incredibly sad.
It was, however, the middle three screens that had been causing him sleepless nights. The financial screens. The sales screens. The numbers screens, what they called the “Sosset” Screens. The T in Sosset was silent. Sales were down. Up-selling was down. The bottom, it appeared, had fallen out of the covert communications market. The squeeze was on and his client portfolio was tightening its purse strings. Everyone from the M16 to the CIA was battening down the hatches for the coming financial storm.
Nathan hated the Sosset screens.
Nathan was startled by the sharp ringing tone in his ear. His Black Operatives Department issue earpiece and suddenly come to life. He had been staring into space but didn‘t know for how long. The noise was sharp and relentless. The screens had gone black. The central screen on the wall in front of him displayed two words. A name: Stansted Banfield. Nathan leaned forward and poured himself a glass of water, took a sip, swallowed and loosened his neck and shoulders. “Accept“, he said, finally.
The face of Nathan‘s father filled the entire room. Stansted Banfield. The most powerful person in the entire agency. Dad.
“Nathan, you‘ve been fielding Madame Sosset‘s calls. You know how she hates it when people do that“.
“Father, hi. I‘ve not been fielding per se. I‘ve just been very busy.“
“Nathan. You‘re my son. I taught you how to lie. It‘s a basic skill in our line of work and it would appear that you‘re not very good at it.“
“I‘m onboarding new staff, overseeing the New Britannia implementation and we‘re putting together the NSA pitch, Dad. These things drain resources. There are only so many hours in the day“.
“Talk to Madame Sosset“.
“Yes, Tyler Xavier is in the building. You’re going to have to press the button.”
Nathan looked at the huge face of his father. Stansted Banfield was a man who had said many things to his son over the years: cruel things, funny things, and words full of wisdom. But these three words, “Press The Button“, were historic words. They’d never been uttered before within the Black Operatives Department. They were dramatic words. Dangerous words.
“You’re kidding me, dad? He wouldn’t dare? Tyler wouldn’t dare!”
“He would and he has. Press the button. I’ll see you down in The War Room”.
… Fucking hell. Nathan looked at the button. It had never been pressed. It had been built into the desk of the New Business Director for one purpose and one purpose alone: in the face of losing a client, the button was to be pressed and an Emergency Agency All-Hands meeting would be triggered. Nathan was about to become the first person in the agencies to press it.
… My personal infamous history. Fucking hell. He breathed on the button and the crystal glass cover popped open, waited for a beat and then pressed it. The screens in his office, in fact, the screens throughout the entire agency network flashed the words: Emergency All-Hands. A metallic voice instructed the agency operatives what to do.
… Please make your way to your office auditorium. The Livestream will begin in ten minutes. Do not delay. This is not a drill. Ten minutes and counting. Nathan stepped into the War Room three minutes later. A round table and four chairs. A terrified film crew busied themselves with the Livestream set-up and sound engineers we’re clipping microphones and headsets to the protagonists in the room. The room was silent. It was forbidden under Emergency All-Hands protocol to discuss the matter of the client’s complaint until every single Black Operatives Department operative was sat in front of a screen watching the Livestream. They had exactly ten minutes to do so. Failure to successful log-on the Emergency All Hands was punishable by death. Harsh, but that’s life in a clandestine advertising agency.
… Please make your way to your office auditorium. The Livestream will begin in one minute. Do not delay. This is not a drill. One minute and counting. Nathan and his father took to their seats. Thirty seconds to go. Nathan noticed that his dad was furious: angry in a way that he had never seen before. Tyler Xavier, the Head of Human Resources, joined them at the table, as did an odd-looking man that Nathan had never seen before. The stranger was wearing a beautiful dark red hat, a tweed jacket, white shirt and tartan tie. He was also wearing Wellington boots and a hunting vest with many pockets.
… Who the fuck is this? The Emergency All-Hands intro-sequence started. The director counted down with three fingers and the red lights on top of the cameras all lit up. Stansted Banfield looked directly in the camera.
“Friends. Faces. Fellow operatives. This is a sad event. A historic event. Welcome to the very first Emergency All-hands. Complacency is the enemy of excellent ideas and it’s easy to lose sight of excellence here within The Darkness. That’s why the Emergency All-Hands protocol was created! A legal, contractual obligation to our clients that, should they, for whatever reason be so unhappy as to terminate our relationship a final emergency meeting should take place in front of the entire agency. I, therefore, ask our respected client, Tyler Xavier, from Coalition Innovations to present his case and describe his complaint before all us.”
… Here we fucking go.
“Before I begin, I would just like to thank you, Stansted, for enabling this meeting today. I would also like to thank the Table Of Faces for their support over the past couple of difficult months. And I would like to thank the Black Operative Department teams for their efforts.”
Nathan had never liked Tyler. He was an HR guy, for fuck’s sake, what did he know about communications? It baffled Nathan just how much power Tyler had managed to accumulate and it was totally unheard of that somebody in his position had been able to trigger the All-Hands protocol.
“Gentlemen, the world is changing. Coalition Innovations is changing. We want to dictate the pace and direction of that change and are, as you know, prepared to do anything to ensure that we will achieve this goal. We’ve paid a premium price for your products and services with impressive results”.
“Initially”. It was the strange man with the hat.
… Who the fuck are you?
“Yes, yes. Initially. But we’ve noticed a drop in performance lately. The campaigns don’t seem to be…”
“Yielding.” Strange hat man again.
“Yes, yes, they don’t seem to be yielding. Your campaigns don’t seem to be yielding the kind of results that we’re looking for. Serious enough, but we’ve also noticed that the teams working on our account, and I mean no disrespect here, we’ve noticed that they’re a little stuck in their ways.”
The man in the hat cleared his throat and interrupted Tyler, “not agile enough, not dynamic enough, not pro-active enough and totally…..”
“WHO THE FLYING FUCK ARE YOU?”. It has Nathan’s father, Stansted. He had stood up and, leaning across the table with his face just inches from the strange man, was booming words of uncontrolled anger. The man in the hat appeared to be completely disinterested in the outburst.
“Stansted, please calm yourself. Sit down. There’s no need to raise your voice, please sit”. Tyler successfully pacified Nathan’s father and touched the man who had brought him lightly on the arm, who in turn nodded and took what looked like a pack of cards out of one of his vest pockets.
“We feel that The Black Operatives Department may have become blind to the requirements of The Coalition’s needs. You’ve been working with us so long that you can’t see what’s relevant anymore. It feels like we are the ones telling you what you should be doing for us. It feels like we’re the ones with the better, edgier and more innovative ideas. That’s not what we expect from our agency. We could be doing it ourselves.”
Nathan raised his hand. Tyler nodded. “I would just like to point out that over the course of the last…”
“Nathan, I appreciate you defending your team, but there really is no point. A decision has been made and ratified unanimously by our board”.
“Oh, God, here we go. I’m going to be the first Director of New Business to lose a client“, thought Nathan.
“We’ve decided to bring in an external consultant to work with you.''
Nathan looked at his father who had turned the strangest colour of anger that he had ever seen.
“I’d like to introduce you to him today. This is Joseph and he will be your Business Magic coach. He’ll be enabling a new level of creative thinking for both your creative and account teams.”
“YOU’VE BROUGHT AN EXTERNAL CONSULTANT INTO THE DARKNESS!” Nathan’s dad wasn’t taking this well.
“Stansted, he’s under contract with Coalition Innovations. He’s more than happy to sign the usual NDA documents.”
“HAVE YOU LOST YOUR FUCKING MIND, TYLER XAVIER?” Daddy wasn’t taking this at all well.
The man in the hat, Joseph, had opened the little pack which was indeed a pack of cards. Nathan watched him shuffle the pack as the other two men argued about security. Slowly, and with great gestures, the strange man snapped cards face down on the table silencing the argument next to him.
“My name is Joseph. Joseph B. I am a Business Magician. This is my wicked pack of cards.”
Snap. Snap. Snap. The cards were forming a triangle: a line of four at the bottom, then three and then two.
“It is my job to help unlock new ways of thinking and find new ways of seeing the universe of business. The process is ancient and clear.”
“He’s a master in this area, Stansted. I know Nathan’s teams will just love working with him.”
You have got to be fucking kidding me?
“The cards help us make new connections, find new combinations and make better business decisions. Each card is an opportunity! Each card is a spell, a business spell that, once cast on its own or in combination with other cards can lead us to extraordinary new levels of play.”
“Tell them about the book, Joseph!”
“I have written a guide to the cards. Its a book of business spells for the initiated. More of a poem than a manual. The book and the cards are powerful tools for creativity and business. One cannot live without the other. I’ll teach you how to navigate your way with both.” Snap. Joseph dealt the tenth and final card from his wicked pack.
“We’ve not come here to terminate our contract with your agency, Stansted. We’ve come here with a solution. We believe that with Joseph’s help we can get your people back up to speed. We don’t want to re-tender. We don’t want to pitch. We want to train you in the fine art of business magic.”
“Pick a card. Any card from the triangle.'' Joseph B was looking straight into the eyes of Nathan who chose the card at the apex. The tenth and final card.
“Are you sure? You’d like to change your mind, maybe?”
Nathan looked at the cards. None of this mattered, he told himself. This is just another stupid business fad: one you could chalk up on the board along with The Golden Circle, Design Thinking, Storydoing, Agility and Scrum. But if this was what it took to save the account, then, fuck it.
He turned the card.
The end of the world began.