Zeitgeist Fitzgibbons, Marketing Maverick, Talks Tactics

the case of the disappearing crosshairs

“The client was a respected manufacturer of athletic footwear. A ‘name brand’ and then some. In their ineffectual ads, beautiful people were exquisitely photographed wearing the footwear and its subsidiary offshoots. I said, ‘Absolutely not.’ They began instead to use cheap digital cameras, lower resolutions, uglier people. Photographers were literally summoned from the streets. ‘Try again,’ I said, because the consumer knows you’re faking it when you fake it. She’ll smell fraudulence on you before she smells it on her closest friends. The client took an ersatz apathetic tack, aggregating atrocious digital photographs from all the social networking websites and putting them in ads. Their product was nowhere to be seen, in these ads--just ordinary people, photographed ordinarily. It was a close call. Hiding downtown by the billboards, I saw many people staring at what loomed over them. But despite evidence to the contrary, the client had expended a great deal of effort on these ads, and the crowds came to realize this and walked on. I have spoken with today’s consumer, and she loathes, above all else, being targeted. She can feel herself in the client’s crosshairs, and it does not please her, not one iota. ‘I am no bull’s eye,’ she proclaims. Finally, at my behest, the client ceased all advertising campaigns. Shareholders briefly feared that the business had folded. Sales have never been higher.”

definition by thought experiment

“Imagine that you, in your metropolis of choice, approach a sidewalk fruit vendor. ‘Pardon me,’ you say, ‘could I trouble you for some plums?’ ‘Of course,’ the vendor says, picking you two of the ripest plums from the basket. Weighing them on a suspended produce scale, the vendor says, ‘That’ll be ninety-eight cents.’

“But imagine you approach a stranger, a man passing on the avenue in his pinstriped designer suit. ‘Pardon me,’ you say, ‘could I trouble you for some plums?’ ‘You could, in fact,’ says the man, pulling a delightfully ripe plum from each of his suit pockets. ‘How does two-fifty sound?’ Imagine the pleasantness of your surprise at the emergence of those plums. Imagine your willingness to pay. That’s marketing.”


“I want to rub the sleep out of your eyes: my clients are not duping you.”

on his lifelong evasion of denim pants

“In the East there is that cliché about Westerners, that they are always buying and wearing blue jeans. Blue jeans practically market themselves in the East for this reason, but they also have their detractors. Denim is emblematic of our Western worldview, manifest destiny and so on. In their minds, there is a Westerner purchasing blue jeans at every moment of every day. I never want to be that Westerner. To be frank, if a bit immodest, I consider such a role to be beneath me.

“I have a need to be liked not just by strangers but by people who will never meet me, know me, or consider me as an individual. This is synecdochic, crucially. I am a part of the whole. I am that part of the whole who does not wear blue jeans.”


“My clients are not trying to dupe you. They only want to rub the sleep out of your eyes.”

on speaking exclusively english

“It is hard, in a business like mine, to be a monolinguist. Certainly if I spoke Spanish or French I could reach many more people, and help them. The French Polynesians are in desperate need of a marketer, for example. They stock certain products, primarily in stalls and hotel lobbies without air-conditioning, that haven’t sold for years. Keychains, for one, and caulking guns, and Simonizing Car Wash startup kits. The vendors are getting very bored and will soon begin to eat away at their retirement savings and children’s college funds.

“In the American Northeast, I once prepared a chain of wigwams. These were modest domes constructed of saplings, mud, and a polycarbonate coextrusion called Makroclear. They were finely-wrought; today, most are upscale retail outlets. But they were air-conditioned by design. To the French Polynesians, blighted by slumping sales, my first piece of advice would be, ‘Get air-conditioning!’ I envision myself giving them a good-natured scolding, inducing many knowing smiles. I simply don’t know the words.”


“On my worst days, I feel as if I am cribbing from myself, inefficiently recycling my finest contributions to the industry. This is, I suppose, true of any occupation.”

the case of the dreaming donut emporium

“The client was a multinational purveyor of donuts, oftentimes with coffee. Because everyone else was then doing it, they planned to make a foray into the sandwich market. ‘Picture this,’ their vice president told me: ‘Flatbreads.’ I said that that was all well and good, but whom precisely was he courting? ‘We are courting the average sandwich eater, the sandwich-eating mainstream.’ Barely restraining my anger, I made him say the word ‘niche’ with me. We pronounced the word variously, and he chose his favorite rendition. I then informed him, ‘The mainstream is a hallucination. It is the opium dream of plump buffoons and tyrants, who categorically deny the ascendancy of niches.’ I was right.”

on his legacy, obliquely

“I have been known to give a shoulder rub. It feels great. It feels so great that, when I am gone, you feel like it is still going.”

on his adopted moniker

“Truth be told, I was born nameless. My parents felt that a name would promote selfishness and an increased likelihood of mistaken identity, and they were probably correct on both counts. Both of them, after all, made it through life without names--it was how they met, it was the greatest thing they had in common. It was never any trouble for them, excepting the paperwork and adamantine secretaries at certain types of bureaucracies.

“I came of age in less fortunate times. By the time I reached eighteen, several very powerful gurus had warned me that if I did not name myself soon, I would drift unnoticed into the backwaters of the river of history. Their exact words were, in unison, ‘Name yourself, _______, soon, lest you drift unnoticed into the backwaters of the river of history!’ (When spoken, the blank took the form of a three-second pause. This was often the case.) They were colorful men with a knack for metaphors; at tying bowties, they excelled. I thought it best, you understand, to obey them. In these matters my intuition is seldom wrong.

“‘Zeitgeist’ came to me as the result of a lengthy questionnaire, the title of which was, ‘If You Were a Word, What Word Would You Be?’ Filling out the questionnaire took an entire month, and in those days one could expect to wait up to six months to receive an answer. My responses, however, pointed so unanimously to one word that I was diagnosed within two weeks. The answer arrived on a sliver of paper in an enormous manila envelope. A kind of inedible fortune cookie. ‘Congratulations!’ it read. ‘You are Zeitgeist. Your Lucky Numbers: 02 54 19 30.’

“As for Fitzgibbons, it is an old family name. Just not my family’s.”


“My clients are not interested in duping you. Rather, they want you to rub the sleep out of your eyes.”

the case of the improvable status quo

“The client was a producer of end-user electronics, known for their ability to innovate. Many marveled at their products; women sometimes fainted in front of their sleek displays, which had multiple tiers and seemed to be lit from within. The client had acquired, at no small cost, empirical proof that their hardware made people happier. Wondering how best to present this information to the public, they sought my help. ‘What about your software?’ I inquired. ‘Does it, too, make people verifiably happier?’ It didn’t, they said, but it also didn’t make people unhappier. So there was the status quo on one hand, and a measurable improvement on the other. I advised them to market their hardware and software jointly under the slogan, ‘Your Status Quo, But Better.’ They chortled in my face and dismissed me. ‘You can’t improve the status quo,’ they explained: ‘If you make an improvement, it is no longer the status quo.’ Clutching my briefcase on the way out the door, I told them that they were so hung up on happiness that they’d forgotten how change works. A few months later, they fell on hard times when their CEO was revealed to have been sleeping with a prototypical robot from their R&D department. Desperate and crunched for time, they aired my slogan internationally for a week straight. A skywriting plane was solicited and my slogan emblazoned in the firmament over Tokyo. Nowadays, no one remembers the CEO’s name, and few remember the robot’s.”

on the origins of wizardry

“No, I was not born a marketer. My aspirations in their incipient stages were quite radical, particularly by the standards of many centuries ago. I was a guerrilla. Bingo markers, Brillo pads, unbent paper clips in electrical sockets: these were my only tools at first, these composed my palette. And I was successful, yes, in that I abided steadfastly by my subjective definition of success.

“One afternoon a woman whom I was then seeing laid her head down on my kitchenette’s table. ‘It’s no use, Zeit,’ she said, ‘all our subversive methodologies have been adopted by the bloody mainstream!’ (She was, by choice, British.) ‘Never fear,’ I said, ‘I have … a … plan.’ Within a fortnight I had hired a man to hire me, paying him in obsolete mimeograph machines, the purple ink of which he enjoyed huffing. Soon afterward I became an advertiser.

All my dialectical materialist friends dumped me. I was exiled from wine-and-cheese gatherings. ‘I am not joining the enemy’s ranks,’ was my icy assurance. ‘I am merely submerging my toes in a foreigner’s bathwater.’

“That was the birth of my doctrine of Turncoatism. It is like Double Agentism, I grant you, my critics are right in that regard, but it boasts fewer casualties and a dramatically reduced risk of defenestration. At present, it is much too complex even to think about.”

the case of deodorant

“The client cooked it up in vast translucent vats on the precipice of a major metropolitan area. They created a passionate new men’s fragrance with impressive antiperspirant qualities, but they could not name it; that’s where I came in. Taking a great whiff in the factory, I stepped back and announced to the executive board, ‘Coastal Storm.’ There was stunned silence, and then a slew of nodding hardhats. At a preliminary screening and trial session, the focus group erupted in applause and rushed out to phone their loved ones. Such calls were a breach of the confidentiality agreement, but the client did not mind. Would you?”

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