“How the fuck did this get past everyone?” Gibbons wanted to know.
He tapped his fingers on the conference table. It was polished mahogany and ran the length of the entire room.
Gathered around the table was his executive board. They all looked nervous, and a lot of them were looking down at their laps. A few stared out the long, open windows to Gibbons’ left, which gave view to the green and grey of idyllic suburban sprawl 32 stories below.
“Quit staring into your crotches,” Gibbons snapped. “Someone fucking answer me.”
In his right hand Gibbons held a box of Tut-Tuts, the most popular breakfast cereal in the entire US of A. Tut-Tuts were a chocolatey explosion in your mouth. They were a mix of sugar-glazed corn puffs shaped into rings, interspersed with fat little marshmallows exploding with creamy chocolate centers. They were advertised with a trio of friendly-looking anthropomorphic marshmallows named Fluff, Stuff and Gruff.
Tut-Tuts were the company’s top selling brand, and ever since their release several years back they’d been stomping the competition. Imitations had been released and fizzled out. Gibbons was very proud of his Tut-Tuts. He liked to say they were his idea.
“I want to know how the fuck something gets past every layer of design, quality control and manufacturing, without someone saying, ‘You know, maybe this isn’t such a good idea,’” Gibbons said. “So if one of you toadies doesn’t answer me right after I finish this sentence, I’m going to have to start chopping heads.”
“I have no idea, sir,” said Valentina. Her first name was Rochelle. She was to his left and as far as Gibbons was concerned she was the only person in that room worth their weight in Tut-Tuts. “But it happened. And now the story is out and we’re going to need to issue a statement.”
“I want to know who I’m firing for this,” said Gibbons.
“Sir,” said Hacksey, a sycophant that Gibbons would have axed years ago if his uncle hadn’t been Gibbons’ best golfing partner. “I hate to be the one to say this, but you were the one who suggested it.”
Gibbons held up the box of Tut-Tuts and shook it. He could hear the cereal rattling around inside the plastic bag, making its delicious sugary goodness noises. It made him think of breakfast.
“How in the fuck was this my idea?” he roared at the table. He saw several underlings cringe at the volume of his voice.
“Sir,” said Valentina. “I think he’s referring to the meeting last spring, when you suggested that we include more ethnic characters in our advertising line-up. You said you were worried because Fluff, Stuff and Gruff were regularly being used by the alt-right as symbols of white supremacy and that we should counter by introducing another character with a more ethnic appearance. You specifically requested an ‘authentic’ and — these are your words, sir — ‘thuggish’ representation.”
“Don’t remind me,” said Gibbons.
Valentina, a black woman, was right. The three mascots had been popping up in memes on /pol/ and /r/the_donald for the entire year, all of them with their perfectly white marshmallow bodies modified to resemble KKK hoods.
But that wasn’t the problem. The derelicts on the internet could have their fun with whatever the hell they wanted. No one took them seriously, not even now that Trump was president.
The problem was what was now on the front of the box of Tut-Tuts, next to the three original soft and sugary mascots.
It was a chocolate marshmallow that had been added to the line-up, marketed in the computer-animated cartoon commercials as a long-lost buddy of the three main marshmallows. He was fashioned with enormous brown lips and hoods under his eyes that gave the impression of either extreme fatigue or acute intoxication. He had a gold tooth and big bushy black eyebrows and an enormous black afro. The look on his face constituted both dutiful, oafish sincerity and subservience while simultaneously expressing a dangerous and unhinged capacity for sudden violence. He was behind and to the left of the others, and he brandished a large, gleaming spoon.
His name was Ruff. He had been added as part of a special edition roll out of Tut-Tuts, this version containing chocolate marshmallows with creamy centers in addition to the regular white marshmallows with chocolate centers.
It didn’t help that the marketing team, in all their wisdom and in an effort to appeal to the “urban and youthful” demographic, had decided to introduce Ruff in the commercials by having him appear in a souped-up purple low rider while accompanied by a soundtrack of hamfisted gansta rap. Riding with him was an entourage of stone-faced, lipsticked-slathered and sunglasses-wearing female corn puff ring Tut-Tuts that Ruff in the commercial referred to as his “O’s”, not once but three times.
Gibbons hadn’t been able to watch the entire 30 second spot. He’d shut it off after Ruff pulled out a .38 special and began threatening Fluff, Stuff and Gruff over “lookin’ at his ‘O’s all funny.”
Millions of these boxes had been shipped around the country the week prior and the commercial had been airing nationwide since the previous Saturday.
The Washington Post had been the first to break the story, not 30 minutes after the first commercial had gone to air. It had been number one on Google since then (it was Monday now) and social media was shitting its pants.
Valentina was right. Gibbons would fuck the ass of whoever was truly responsible for this calamity once the damage was contained.
“What do we do?” he asked.
“It’s very simple,” said Valentina. “We say, ‘We at Kranston Confections are committed to diversity and the sensitivity and respect of all races, genders and creeds and we will correct this mistake immediately.’ That’s it. Then we pull everything and start over. The sales will be back to normal by next quarter. People don’t just stop buying a household brand overnight because of something like this.”
“And then Ruff is gone, right?”
Gibbons looked around the table at the rest of his silent servants.
“Does anyone else have anything to add? Anyone else want to justify their being here?”
There were no replies from the fifteen other people at the table. They all sat like scolded children.
“Pussies,” thought Gibbons. “This is why they’ll never break seven figures.”
He turned to Valentina.
“Get to work on that statement,” he said. “I want it out within the hour.”
“Yes, sir,” said Valentina.
“Meeting adjourned,” Gibbons grumbled, slouched in his chair.
The rest of the table got up and shuffled out the door, none of them making eye contact. Valentina led the way, on a mission. Gibbons decided then and there that he was going to give her a fat bonus check this year regardless of whether or not this worked.
He looked at the box of Tut-Tuts in his hand, at the travesty of a marketing ploy that was soiling its otherwise pristine graphic interface.
He tore open the box and tore open the bag. He shoved his hand into the Tut-Tuts and pulled out a fistful. He dropped them into his mouth and chewed.
They were pretty good.