Regular readers might remember the first case I reported in these pages. Hardcore masochists might even recall the second one. If not, don’t let it get to you. I beat the pavement as a private brand detective. The lion’s share of my cases have to do with bad decisions — some made, some not made. But as Geddy Lee sings (con voce castrato) in “Freewill“, if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.

Mulcahy at the 5th precinct turned this case over to me because he wasn’t sure a crime had been committed. A rapidly growing B2B firm, Killer Stuff, in an industry better left unspecified, had circumvented its traditional distribution network to sell a new line of products direct to a new vertical market. They had the wherewithal to acknowledge the risk of disenfranchising their distributors. They had the wherewithal to advertise in the trade publication with the largest circulation in said vertical. They did not, however, have the wherewithal to sustain that advertising.

One of Mulcahy’s beat cops, who happened to be passing the firm’s offices one day, heard someone shriek, “That’s a crime!”

The reputation of advertising seems to have taken it on the chin of late. That’s a shame. There’s still nothing like it to quickly establish brand awareness, especially in a new market or industry. If the message is good, there’s still nothing like it to establish credibility for that brand. If the presentation is good, there’s still nothing like it to suggest you care as much about the brand as you expect your audience to. And if you sustain it, there’s still nothing like it to send the message that the brand is here to stay.

Deciding not to advertise, especially after you’ve begun a consistent program, is a confusing move bordering on disastrous. If the message was good, there’s nothing like disappearing to tell your prospects you no longer believe in it. If the presentation was good, there’s nothing like disappearing to tell your prospects you lost the courage of your convictions. And if you abandon your advertising, there’s nothing like that abdication to tell your prospects you don’t think the brand will even recoup the cost of your advertising.

There are no laws on the books precluding such shortsightedness, but it’s nonetheless a crime — especially against prospects and employees who may have invested their faith in your short-lived investment of adverting dollars.

With little evidence, few clues, and no leads to go on, I decided to pay a visit to the company’s HQ to see if I could drum up something, anything, that would help me put this puzzle together. I walked in through the main entrance. It was about 11:30 in the morning. Since there was neither a receptionist nor a security guard to greet me, I figured I’d roam the halls to see what, or whom, I might find.

Given the dearth of activity in the building, the most noticeable absence was that of tumbleweeds. Like the sound of the ocean in conch shell, I swore I could hear wind whistling down the deserted corridors.

After 20 minutes of slinking around the joint, I approached an ell going off to the right. Just to the left of the 90-degree turn, I noticed a plaque on the door of the corner office. Buffed brass, the plaque read: Biff Meanwell, President. I tried the door. It was locked.

While I typically use my lock-picking kit to get myself out of jams, I made the executive decision to use it to get myself into one this time. Casting wary glances in both directions, even though I hadn’t heard so much as a footfall since crashing the dump, I jimmied my way into the office.

Biff sat behind his desk, looking for all the world as if he’d been expecting me.

To be continued …

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