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
9. Dezember 2019
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 2 - The Ultimate Call To Action
“It’s really very simple”, William Schulz explained. “It’s all about the economics of influence and the attention ‘arms race’. What we need to do is to create something that feeds off one, to increase the other”.
William was drawing wild diagrams on the huge whiteboard that covered the entire wall space of the conference room that they were sitting in. One-way whiteboards. Not mirrors. Whiteboards. The inhabitants of the conference room knew that senior management and the client were observing them. This was what the Black Operatives Department ironically sold to prospective clients as “agile transparency sessions”.
“Yeah, but what does that actually mean, William, and what the fuck does it have to do with the brief? What do the economics of influence and attention have to do with helping the British Government enforce paragraph twelve of New Britannia?” Penelope Cavendish was still in her probation period, but years of traditional strategic-planner-versus-creative-director animosity could not be suppressed. The animosity at this stage of a campaign was hardwired into both of them. The patriarchy, she had learned, flourished in the dark corners of stupid ideas.
The idea behind New Britannia had been pretty simple. The client had been a holding company called Coalition Innovations. It was the facade of a group of international far-right political parties, organizations and extremist groups, who, in turn, had the British Parliament and the majority of its present government in its pocket. The brief had been to destabilise Europe, to create an opening for what they had coined The Third Agenda, and to begin the process of creating a single, right-wing block of countries smack-bang in the heart of Europe. William had looked at the data, seen that toppling the United Kingdom had been key, and had drawn up a strategic document entitled The Wasteland Act. The Black Operatives Department creatives had then developed the campaign that the world would come to know as New Britannia - but underneath it all had been William’s Wasteland Act, and he was deeply pleased with it. He considered it a masterpiece. His masterpiece. A tragic comedy in three acts.
Act 1. Status Quo. Take back control.
Act 2. The Chaos: The New Britannia.
Act 3. The resolution. The strong man cometh.
“We’re not talking about the spirit of the United Kingdom.” William had proclaimed during the pitch, “we’re talking about the spirit of Britannia, that sense of God-given right to be and do whatever we damn well please. The Catholics have the Pope but we have The King, the ruler of Britannia, something mythical, spiritual and holy. Britannia is our nation's secret sauce. If we can rewire people back into that feeling and away from internationalism, then we can set them on a path towards you, your values, and your Coalition members.
“This campaign can never be about facts. It has to be about feelings. Our feelings towards the people coming into this country. Our feelings about the rest of the world outside of this country. Our feelings about how we have been treated by our so-called political friends.
“The Church has crumbled in this country and there’s no spiritual home for any of us to go to. We’ve lost our God. But we will give it a Goddess. We will give it Britannia - a New Britannia and Nathan will now show you how”. With that, William had handed the clicker over to the Director of New Business.
The United Kingdom had been an ideal channel for The Wasteland Act strategy: clear class structures, with a withering middle class, a working-class crushed by years of austerity policies, a fragile and antiquated political system based more on tradition than political practicalities, and an elite group of people sitting at the top of the pile who controlled it all. In the middle of it was the liberal media elite bunkered down in London, and millions of non-British nationals scattered across the country. These were the actors cast in Williams three-act farce. The interactions between these actors, their feelings towards each other, and their fears about each other were crucial to the success of the campaign.
“The trick,” Nathan had told the Coalition representatives, “is that we don’t force The Wasteland Act upon the British. We ask them to vote for it - a referendum for a New Britannia. We ask them to consider what they have lost and what they want to have back again. They will demand Britannia. They will demand a New Britannia regardless of the pain or of the costs. They will be its cause and trigger a chain of events that William here has outlined in The Wasteland Act strategy. It will bring about the chaos you require, not only in the UK but throughout the whole of Europe. Your ultimate KPI is a civil war and with New Britannia, you will get one.”
Anger, hunger, fear, control and violence were the pillars of a post-New Britannia. It was crucial that the population of the United Kingdom accepted that these four things must be part of their new reality. They had used the dark-post media campaigning and emotional data-gathering across the Coalition’s own social media platform, MYFACE, to stoke anger and to hit the key performance targets that the agency had been set.
They had hit every single target, except for the civil war. It was for this reason that William Schulz was now hauled up in the agile transparency observation room with Penelope Cavendish.
“Article twelve is all about fear, William.” Penelope clicked her way through William‘s pitch PowerPoint deck until she reached the section entitled Military Rule in The New Britannia.
“Article 12. Her Majesty’s government reserves the right to implement military law should any or all of the following occur:
- Twelve consecutive days of civil unrest throughout the country.
- Critical infrastructures such as hospitals, telecommunications, power plants, refineries etc are threatened either by physical or digital means.
- Major disruption to food supply chains.
- Major disruption to water supply chains.
- Domestic terrorist threat level remains critical for three consecutive days.”
Penelope clicked onto the next slide. A mood film for article twelve started automatically. Scenes of violence, violence, unrest and hunger appeared on the screen.
“None of that has anything to do with influence economy or attention, William. It’s about fear.“
“Yeah, but we still need to trigger those events, and I think we need celebrities and stars to get the message out. We need fear influencers”.
The room fell silent. She had a point and both of them knew it. The successful implementation of The Wasteland Act strategy depended on article twelve being triggered. It was an important component: the catalyst that would eventually lead to The Third Agenda. But eighteen months had passed, the Pound had plummeted, and there had indeed been the odd protest here and there but nothing on the scale that had been needed to trigger the article.
They had simply assumed that it would work.
“OK. You’re right. What’s the message? What are we missing?” William was annoyed and embarrassed. He was also pissed off with himself for being sloppy and pissed off that it had been Penelope who had spotted it. He was devastated that his failure was being watched by his senior management and clients through the walls of the white cube.
“We need a big idea. Something that challenges the very idea of New Britannia. An idea that focuses on only one of those bullet points but will trigger the rest.” Penelope already knew what this should be but she was trying to help William get it. She didn’t like him, but she couldn’t bear to see a colleague struggle with an idea.
“Of course. How could I have been so stupid? We need domestic terrorism.”
“OK, but how do we frame it? How do we make it scale?”
“We need to polarize. We need to make it attractive to one side and abhorrent to the other.”
“The Marmite of terrorism”.
“The Marmite of terrorism.”
William stood up, wiped all of the whiteboard walls clean, grabbed a thick pen and wrote THE MARMITE OF TERRORISM in the centre of a wall. The two of them continued to mind-map the basic components for how they would approach building the campaign: key players, stakeholders, timings, “Christmas is going to be so, so critical to this”, media channels, and possible testimonials.
After half an hour, the mindmap was extensive and covered resources, communications, and rough campaign ideas. It was a spider‘s web of non-permanent ink that left neither of them fully satisfied. William opened up another thread and scribbled the words “Technology and Production“ onto the wall. He listed all of their standard societal harvesting platforms, The Parallel technology as well as few things that Penelope had never heard of before. One, in particular, caught her eye.
“What’s ESKAL8?” She asked.
William became suddenly uneasy as if he’d been caught out. A click and a beep from hidden speakers in the room saved him. Penelope recognised the voice immediately. It was Nathan’s father - one of the founders The Black Operatives Department and head of the Table Of Faces. Things really were bad if he was sitting in on the agile transparency session.
“ESKAL8, Penelope, is still in development and William shouldn’t really have mentioned it. But it’s on the board and what goes on the board must be worked on. ESKAL8 is sonic manipulation. We can control people and their physical actions with sound.”
“So we can make people physically do anything we want them to do?”
”William will fill you in on the details.“ Click. Beep. Nathan‘s father was gone.
“That’s the idea, yes. Anything from buying a certain kind of mobile phone, to jumping off of a cliff. It “escalates” a particular situation in any way we or our clients want. It wasn‘t ready for the referendum, which is a shame because it would have saved us a lot of time and money. It’s very experimental and not ready for release at this time.“
Penelope sat looking at the words on the board. She thought to herself, “Step back away from what you think they want you to do and do what you would do, Penelope.”
Terrorist group. Group. Like a band. Like a brand.
“OK. So here’s my thinking. ESKAL8 is an anti-New Britannia domestic terrorist group. It has eight founding members, but with cells all over the country. It has a manifesto, of course, and it is heavily branded. I want it to have the feel of the media elite - something for the New Britannians to get upset about. We need to keep it super slick and tech-savvy too. Its base is London, of course… in fact, it sees it as its job to protect London against...”
“Keep going, Pen, keep going”. William had been furiously documenting her stream of thought on the whiteboard and was starting to feel the campaign come together.
“In fact, it only launches attacks outside of London, in cities that had majority votes for New Britannia and also have some kind of interesting critical infrastructure. Southampton, for example had UK’s largest oil refinery. These would be cleverly-planned attacks that, with or without your ESKAL8 technology, would get people going. But with it…”
William stood back from the wall and phased out from what Penelope was saying. Something had always bothered him about terrorist groups. It was their sloppy marketing that had always bothered him.
“You know, the really disappointing thing with domestic terrorism, from a communications point of view, is that that there’s no real narrative arc to an attack. They just happen. There’s the shock and stuff but no real…”
“...anticipation. No teaser phase, no countdown, it’s just an action.“ Penelope knew exactly what he meant. “No sense of pressure. We need to turn each act of terrorism into a campaign in itself. They need to have a beginning, a middle, and an end.” Penelope was now standing on the other side of the room mapping out what she’d simply called “Southampton” whilst William continued to create the basic structure of what and who ESKAL8 could be. His was a complex web of ideas, notes and thoughts that had spread out from the central big idea of “The Eight”.
“Wasn’t The Six in a Poirot novel? That should keep them busy for a bit”, William joked.
“Not quite. It was called The Big Four. It‘s my favourite”, said Penelope. “The secret society of The Big Four. They were four incredibly powerful people who wanted to topple society and the British way of life, but in the end, it was just a sad, hapless actor who wanted to prove himself to an unrequited love“.
“OK,” said Penelope finally, “here’s what I’ve got. ESKAL8 reveal themselves to the world and announce that they will be attacking Southampton on the 8th of August at 0800hrs. I’d like to create an “end of days” vibe to the communications. We should do some countdown stuff as pre-rolls and get some content out into the local community. We could brute-force ourselves into advertising segments. We’d need to create press playbooks for both sides of the New Britannia argument. Let’s set up The Eight as heroes within the borders of London to agitate the New Brittanianists.”
She took a step back to look at the wall. When Nathan had enrolled her into the Black Operatives Department he had tried to explain their TRUST model to her.
“TRUST, the thrill of the dark idea. Everything we do: every idea, every campaign, every event and every piece of content must thrill people to their core. Fear, anger, love and detest are all thrilling emotions. TRUST is about reclaiming the sense of a perceived loss. The work of our agency, your work, is to amplify the sense that somebody or something has taken something away from us. Dystopian communications can only work if we fully understand the fears and anxieties of people. We employ people: art directors, account managers, strategic planners, copywriters and futurists who are prepared to sacrifice their private lives, fame, recognition and their moral compass in order to create work that changes the world. Finally, we create terror because it is the strongest emotion of all. Thrill, Reclaim, Understand, Sacrifice, Terror. TRUST. The model that has made us the most successful agency that the world has never heard of”.
She thought that he was mad. That she was mad for listening to it. But here she was, building dystopian communication campaigns and sacrificing her moral compass to get done what needed to be done.
“Let’s pour some technology over this and see what comes out from the darkness,'' said William who had joined her on her side of the room.
It didn’t take them long to sketch out a plan as to how they would use the technology of ESKAL8 to mobilize the various protagonist sets into chaotic action: who they would have panic-buying, protesting, supporting or prepping against this new scourge to New Britannia’s safety. They pulled up satellite imagery of Fawley refinery and the surrounding area: Weston Beach, the Solent and The Royal Victoria country park directly opposite. They made rough dossiers on possible patsies by looking through LinkedIn. Governments and multinational companies had been toppled by phishing around the egos of LinkedIn. It had always been the perfect place to start.
Three hours later, they felt like they had a solid idea.
It was pitched to Nathan later that day. His father had already briefed him on the idea but he was Penelope and Nathan’s boss, and the Director of New Business. He would eventually pitch the idea himself to the client and just wanted to make sure that the idea was watertight and pull rank on them both.
”So, you‘re going to invent a terrorist group?“
“Yes“, William replied. ”A branded terrorist group with quality content. An intelligent, almost stylish terrorist group targeted at winning over the media darlings and striking terror into the hearts of The New Brittanianists.“
“Yes. A fictional group of eight anonymous…“ Nathan cut Penelope short. “And you‘re going to blow up Fawley refinery?“
“A group of ESKAL8 operatives, refinery staff to be precise, will be carrying out the act, yes“. Penelope hated being cut off.
“The refinery will blow and take half of the surrounding area with it”, said William.
“We‘ll start the teaser campaign three weeks ahead of the 8th and have a countdown. We‘ll provide all relevant news, media and covert digital channels with backstories and rumours, and create a backlog of ESKAL8 video content that will be back-dated to around the time of the referendum.“Penelope was also considering folding this campaign into her Whistleblower project too, but she wanted to keep that to herself for now.
“Big pictures. Broad strokes. Hidden graffiti. I presume that ESKAL8 will have a logo and a secret sign that supporters can chalk onto walls and things? You know, like in the Dark Knight Rises?“. Nathan was beginning to get a feel for the campaign now. He could see how he was going to pitch it: new technology made especially for this challenging briefing.
William took a good long hard look at Nathan. He could sense his excitement and the chance to position himself favourably with his boss. It was a chance to steal Penelope‘s thunder.
“Yes, we‘ll have all that, but the really important piece is ESKAL8 technology. Getting this right will be a proof of concept for the agency. If we can prove that it can make people physically do what we want them to do - whether it be protest, go shopping, buy certain products, set fire to vehicles, support a known terrorist group or even blow up an oil refinery - then we can hit any target of any brief that any client could ever give us. It will need to be very carefully scoped, and the playbook should be handled by someone with a degree of Black Operatives Department experience.“
Nathan didn‘t notice William’s play for power. He was too busy creating his own Black Operatives legacy in his mind. ESKAL8 could be his ticket to a seat at the Table of Faces. It was the ultimate prize for anyone within the agency, and these two had just handed him a seat. He stood up and looked at the walls full of chaos, conspiracy, and covert communications. Finally, he turned around and looked back at his two operatives.
“I like it. It’s very Black Operatives Department. It’s very TRUST. ESKAL8! The ultimate call to action!“ He moved towards the door, reached for the handle and turned to his two new favourite operatives. “We don’t wag the dog,” he said, “We blow the dog up.“ and then he left.