Breeder Reaction

by Winston Marks

Copyright© 2018 by Winston Marks

Science Fiction Story: The remarkable thing about Atummyc Afterbath Dusting Powder was that it gave you that lovely, radiant, atomic look--just the way the advertisements said it would. In fact, it also gave you a little something more!

Tags: Science Fiction   Novel-Classic  

The advertising game is not as cut and dried as many people think. Sometimes you spend a million dollars and get no results, and then some little low-budget campaign will catch the public’s fancy and walk away with merchandising honors of the year.

Let me sound a warning, however. When this happens, watch out! There’s always a reason for it, and it isn’t always just a matter of bright slogans and semantic genius. Sometimes the product itself does the trick. And when this happens people in the industry lose their heads trying to capitalize on the “freak” good fortune.

This can lead to disaster. May I cite one example?

I was on loan to Elaine Templeton, Inc., the big cosmetics firm, when one of these “prairie fires” took off and, as product engineer from the firm of Bailey Hazlitt & Persons, Advertising Agency, I figured I had struck pure gold. My assay was wrong. It was fool’s gold on a pool of quicksand.

Madame “Elaine”, herself, had called me in for consultation on a huge lipstick campaign she was planning--you know, NOW AT LAST, A TRULY KISS-PROOF LIPSTICK!--the sort of thing they pull every so often to get the ladies to chuck their old lip-goo and invest in the current dream of non-smearability. It’s an old gimmick, and the new product is never actually kiss-proof, but they come closer each year, and the gals tumble for it every time.

Well, they wanted my advice on a lot of details such as optimum shades, a new name, size, shape and design of container. And they were ready to spend a hunk of moolah on the build-up. You see, when they give a product a first-class advertising ride they don’t figure on necessarily showing a profit on that particular item. If they break even they figure they are ahead of the game, because the true purpose is to build up the brand name. You get enough women raving over the new Elaine Templeton lipstick, and first thing you know sales start climbing on the whole line of assorted aids to seduction.

Since E. T., Inc., was one of our better accounts, the old man told me to take as long as was needed, so I moved in to my assigned office, in the twelve-story E. T. building, secretary, Scotch supply, ice-bags, ulcer pills and all, and went to work setting up my survey staff. This product engineering is a matter of “cut and try” in some fields. You get some ideas, knock together some samples, try them on the public with a staff of interviewers, tabulate the results, draw your conclusions and hand them over to Production with a prayer. If your ad budget is large enough your prayer is usually answered, because the American Public buys principally on the “we know what we like, and we like what we know” principle. Make them “know it” and they’ll buy it. Maybe in love, absence makes the heart grow fonder, but in this business, familiarity breeds nothing but sales.

Madame Elaine had a fair staff of idea boys, herself. In fact, every other department head had some gimmick he was trying to push to get personal recognition. The Old Hag liked this spirit of initiative and made it plain to me I was to give everyone a thorough hearing.

This is one of the crosses you have to bear. Everyone but the janitor was swarming into my office with suggestions, and more than half of them had nothing to do with the lipstick campaign at all. So I dutifully listened to each one, had my girl take impressive notes and then lifted my left or my right eyebrow at her. My left eyebrow meant file them in the wastebasket. This is how the Atummyc Afterbath Dusting Powder got lost in the shuffle, and later I was credited with launching a new item on which I didn’t even have a record.

It came about this way:


Just before lunch one day, one of the Old Hag’s promotion-minded pixies flounced her fanny into my interview chair, crossed her knees up to her navel and began selling me her pet project. She was a relative of the Madame as well as a department head, so I had to listen.

Her idea was corny--a new dusting powder with “Atummion” added, to be called, “Atummyc Afterbath Dusting Powder”--”Atummyc”, of course, being a far-fetched play on the word “atomic”. What delighted her especially was that the intimate, meaningful word “tummy” occurred in her coined trade name, and this was supposed to do wonders in stimulating the imaginations of the young females of man-catching-age.

[Illustration]

As I said, the idea was corny. But the little hazel-eyed pixie was not. She was about 24, black-haired, small-waisted and bubbling with hormones. With her shapely knees and low-cut neckline she was a pleasant change of scenery from the procession of self-seeking middle-agers I had been interviewing--not that her motive was any different.

I stalled a little to feast my eyes. “This Atummion Added item,” I said, “just what is Atummion?”

“That’s my secret,” she said, squinching her eyes at me like a fun-loving little cobra. “My brother is assistant head chemist, and he’s worked up a formula of fission products we got from the Atomic Energy Commission for experimentation.”

“Fission products!” I said. “That stuff’s dangerous!”

“Not this formula,” she assured me. “Bob says there’s hardly any radiation to it at all. Perfectly harmless.”

“Then what’s it supposed to do?” I inquired naively.

She stood up, placed one hand on her stomach and the other behind her head, wiggled and stretched. “Atummyc Bath Powder will give milady that wonderful, vibrant, atomic feeling,” she announced in a voice dripping with innuendo.

“All right,” I said, “that’s what it’s supposed to do. Now what does it really do?”

“Smells good and makes her slippery-dry, like any other talcum,” she admitted quite honestly. “It’s the name and the idea that will put it across.”

“And half a million dollars,” I reminded her. “I’m afraid the whole thing is a little too far off the track to consider at this time. I’m here to make a new lipstick go. Maybe later--”

“I appreciate that, but honestly, don’t you think it’s a terrific idea?”

“I think you’re terrific,” I told her, raising my left eyebrow at my secretary, “and we’ll get around to you one of these days.”

“Oh, Mr. Sanders!” she said, exploding those big eyes at me and shoving a half-folded sheet of paper at me. “Would you please sign my interview voucher?”

In Madame Elaine’s organization you had to have a written “excuse” for absenting yourself from your department during working hours. I supposed that the paper I signed was no different from the others. Anyway, I was still blinded by the atomic blast of those hazel eyes.

After she left I got to thinking it was strange that she had me sign the interview receipt. I couldn’t remember having done that for any other department heads.

I didn’t tumble to the pixie’s gimmick for a whole month, then I picked up the phone one day and the old man spilled the news. “I thought you were making lipstick over there. What’s this call for ad copy on a new bath powder?”

The incident flashed back in my mind, and rather than admit I had been by-passed I lied, “You know the Madame. She always gets all she can for her money.”

The old man muttered, “I don’t see taking funds from the lipstick campaign and splitting them off into little projects like this,” he said. “Twenty-five thousand bucks would get you one nice spread in the Post, but what kind of a one-shot campaign would that be?”

I mumbled excuses, hung up and screamed for the pixie. My secretary said, “Who?”

“Little sexy-eyes. The Atomic Bath Powder girl.”

Without her name it took an hour to dig her up, but she finally popped in, plumped down and began giggling. “You found out.”

“How,” I demanded, “did you arrange it?”

“Easy. Madame Elaine’s in Paris. She gave you a free hand, didn’t she?”

I nodded.

“Well, when you signed your okay on the Atummyc--”

“That was an interview voucher!”

“Not--exactly,” she said ducking her head.

The damage was done. You don’t get ahead in this game by admitting mistakes, and the production department was already packaging and labelling samples of Atummyc Bath Powder to send out to the distributors.


I had to carve the $25,000 out of my lipstick budget and keep my mouth shut. When the ad copy came over from my firm I looked it over, shuddered at the quickie treatment they had given it and turned it loose. Things were beginning to develop fast in my lipstick department, and I didn’t have time to chase the powder thing like I should have--since it was my name on the whole damned project.

So I wrote off the money and turned to other things.

We were just hitting the market with Madame Elaine Templeton’s “Kissmet” when the first smell of smoke came my way. The pixie came into my office one morning and congratulated me.

“You’re a genius!” she said.

“Like the Kissmet campaign, do you?” I said pleased.

“It stinks,” she said holding her nose. “But Atummyc Bath Powder will pull you out of the hole.”

“Oh, that,” I said. “When does it go to market?”

“Done went--a month ago.”

“What? Why you haven’t had time to get it out of the lab yet. Using a foreign substance, you should have had an exhaustive series of allergy skin tests on a thousand women before--”

“I’ve been using it for two months myself,” she said. “And look at me! See any rashes?”

I focussed my eyes for the first time, and what I saw made me wonder if I were losing my memory. The pixie had been a pretty little French pastry from the first, but now she positively glowed. Her skin even had that “radiant atomic look”, right out of our corny, low-budget ad copy.

“What--have you done to yourself, fallen in love?”

“With Atummyc After Bath Powder,” she said smugly. “And so have the ladies. The distributors are all reordering.”

Well, these drug sundries houses have some sharp salesmen out, and I figured the bath powder must have caught them needing something to promote. It was a break. If we got the $25,000 back it wouldn’t hurt my alibi a bit, in case the Kissmet production failed to click.

Three days later the old man called me from the New York branch of our agency. “Big distributor here is hollering about the low budget we’ve given to this Atummyc Bath Powder thing,” he said. “He tells me his men have punched it hard and he thinks it’s catching on pretty big. Maybe you better talk the Madame out of a few extra dollars.”

“The Old Hag’s in Europe,” I told him, “and I’m damned if I’ll rob the Kissmet Lipstick deal any more. It’s mostly spent anyway.”

The old man didn’t like it. When you get the distributors on your side it pays to back them up, but I was too nervous about the wobbly first returns we were getting on the Kissmet campaign to consider taking away any of the unspent budget and throwing it into the bath powder deal.

The next day I stared at an order from a west coast wholesaler and began to sweat. The pixie fluttered it under my nose. “Two more carloads of Atummyc Bath Powder,” she gloated.

“Two more carloads?”

“Certainly. All the orders are reading carloads,” she said. “This thing has busted wide open.”

And it had. Everybody, like I said earlier, lost their head. The bath-powder plant was running three shifts and had back-orders chin high. The general manager, a joker name of Jennings, got excited, cabled Madame Elaine to get back here pronto, which she did, and then the panic was on.

The miracle ingredient was this Atummion, and if Atummion sold bath powder why wouldn’t it sell face-cream, rouge, mud-packs, shampoos, finger-nail polish and eye-shadow?

For that matter, the Old Hag wanted to know, why wouldn’t it sell Kissmet Lipstick?

The answer was, of course, that the magic legend “Contains the Exclusive New Beauty Aid, Atummion” did sell these other products. Everything began going out in carload lots as soon as we had the new labels printed, and to be truthful, I breathed a wondrous sigh of relief, because up to that moment my Kissmet campaign had promised to fall flat on its lying, crimson face.


The staggering truth about Atummion seeped in slowly. Item one: Although we put only a pinch of it in a whole barrel of talcum powder, it did give the female users a terrific complexion! Pimples, black-heads, warts, freckles and even minor scars disappeared after a few weeks, and from the very first application users mailed us testimonials swearing to that “atomic feeling of loveliness”.

Item two: About one grain of Atummion to the pound of lipstick brought out the natural color of a woman’s lips and maintained it there even after the lipstick was removed.

Item three: There never was such a shampoo. For once the ad copywriters failed to exceed the merits of their product. Atummion-tinted hair took on a sparkling look, a soft texture and a natural-appearing wave that set beauty-operators screaming for protection.

These beauticians timed their complaint nicely. It got results on the morning that the whole thing began to fall to pieces.

About ten A. M. Jennings called a meeting of all people concerned in the Atummyc Powder project, and they included me as well as the pixie and her brother, the assistant chemist.

Everyone was too flushed with success to take Jennings’ opening remark too seriously. “It looks like we’ve got a winner that’s about to lose us our shirts,” he said.

He shuffled some papers and found the one he wanted to hit us with first. “The beauticians claim we are dispensing a dangerous drug without prescription. They have brought suits to restrain our use.”

Madame Elaine in her mannishly tailored suit was standing by a window staring out. She said, “The beauticians never gave us any break, anyway. Hell with them! What’s next?”

Jennings lifted another paper. “I agree, but they sicked the Pure Food and Drug people on us. They tend to concur.”

“Let them prove it first,” the Old Hag said turning to the pixie’s brother. “Eh, Bob!”

“It’s harmless!” he protested, but I noticed that the pixie herself, for all her radiance, had a troubled look on her face.

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