'I want my, I want my Emm Pee Three ...'

I met Michael Douglas today.

Well, I didn't meet him, but I watched him speak and was even briefly addressed by him.

Stores Online, Inc.'s Michael Douglas doppelganger
Stores Online, Inc.'s presenter, not exactly as shown, but awfully damned close.

Well. It wasn't really Michael Douglas — he didn't swear — but the picture of the film star at left is a bloody close approximation and since "John Kekel" doesn't have the same ring to it, "Michael" it will be for the duration of this post — which I will endeavor to keep shorter than he did his 90-minute (120-135minute!) presentation.

Yes, I said "presentation". Y'see, a few weeks back, the Big C got some kind of pitch for "Internet Cash Flow Conference", presented by an outfit called Stores Online, Inc. The event was said to last only 90 minutes at no cost but to one's time and, further, lunch and an MP3 player were promised to each attendee.

Long story short, we opted to attend, thinking it was just possible we might come away with some useful information and, what the hell, it was an excuse to get out of the house.

Well, a long 90 minutes it turned out to be!

Not just because the event actually last closer to an two hours and change when you count the pre-meeting waiting time and the (admitedly slight) time over-run, but mostly because I am really out of the habit of of paying attention to commercials, let alone trying to focus on one lasting more than an hour.

It's not just because of video-tapes and DVDs and torrents youtube and all the other modern ways we've developed of avoiding the Ad Man, but goes back to the Big C and my childhood itself.

In those far off times, our television set was a monstrous floor model, with rabbit ears and no colour picture-tube. It took maybe two minutes to warm up and it had never even heard of a remote control.

Fortunately (or not; your mileage may vary), the Big C was not under any illusion that we were obligated to watch the coffee and soap and beer commercials which paid for our entertainment. They were insults to our intelligence! he would insist and so my younger brother and I became the house-hold's remote control. Not the only chores we had, but in retrospect the most amusing. As soon as a commercial would come on the air, the Big C would call out, "Ding-ding" and one or the other of us would leap to our feet to silence the offending sales pitch, then reversing the procedure when the program recommenced.

So you see, my lack of appreciation for the Fine Art of Advertising goes back a long way.

As you can imagine, this morning's session, then was rather interesting, in an (extremely!) tedious way.

There were in fact probably something close to 200 hundred people in attendance. I pegged the average age as being somewhere between 40 and 50, the socio-economic demographic as lower middle class. Possibly as many of a third of the crowd was non-white — I think a high percentage for Ottawa, though I don't get out much and this city is much more brown than it was 20 years ago. Still, it soon became apparent that most of the crowd was not there for the free lunch, the MP3 player or just out of idle curiosity.

"Michael" turned out to be a Yank, a fast-talker with slicked-back, graying hair and a bit of a twang, maybe from the mid-west.

He took to the front of the room right on time, after the Big C and I had spent maybe 20 minutes exchanging the occasional remark and keep half and eye on the screen before us, on which cartoons ("On the internet, no one knows you're a dog") alternated with inspirational quotes from the likes of Lee Iacocca and other "Entrepreneurial" Giants ("The only difference between a rich person and a poor person is how they use their time").

'Michael' tapped the mike hooked to his chest and we were off. "Good afternoon, my name is Michael; thank you for coming out today."

"Good afternoon, Michael!" a single, possibly sardonic, voice called out from the back of the room.

"Now there's someone who know's what they're doing!" "Michael" said. And he repeated himself. "Good afternoon, my name is Michael; thank you for coming out today," slowing down just enough and leaning towards in such a way as to communicate his desire for a reply.

Just about everyone did. "Good afternoon, Michael!" There was a little self-conscious laughter, but most people seemed to appreciate the ice-breaker. "Michael" had full control of the room.

But to reinforce it, he added, "Do me a favour. I want you all to take out your cell-phones and turn them off. Don't put them on vibrate, but turn them right off. I've only got 90 minutes and I don't want any of you sending text messages while were here.

"And don't ask any questions; I'm not going to answer anything during the presentation." He would be happy to, he said, afterwards but we were not to speak up unless he asked us to — something he did fairly often, mostly posing rhetorical questions whose answers were self-evident.

He spoke for a bit more than 20 minutes, offering some general information about the internet and e-commerce and then, at 12:25, he was done with that and the Pitch began.

The next 65 or 70 minutes was no more or less than a sales pitch for (a) storesonline.com, a company which provides an e-commerce template, hosting and a mysterious set of "Tools" ($3600.00) about which we could learn only if we attended another meeting, a $63.00 meeting, a full-day meeting, two weeks hence.

We were presented with a couple of success stories and some general principles about how to "make money on the internet" but I confess I started blanking out pretty early, wondering about the promised lunch (it was bland but edible) and whether the MP3 player (believe it or not until today I have never owned one) would have more than 256K of memory (it doesn't)).

The Big C asked whether I thought it would be worthwhile going to the follow-up session and whether I thought the service they were selling was appropriate for us — as you can imagine, Mr. Open-Source answered in the negative.

And that's it, really. My first exposure to high-pressure salesmanship. I was a little surprised at how much most of the people there seemed to enjoy the session and more, at how many seemed to think they were going to learn something worth paying for on May 15th. I think that about half the room signed up.

But me? It did remind me that I want to stop paralyzing myself with perfectionism and get a prototype website built for the Big C this week, which never hurts — and that advertising insults my intelligence.

Unlike, I hope, this week's episode of Doctor Who, which I think I will go and watch now, thank you very much.


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