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The Doctor Is In.

October 20, 2017

By Jim Rhodes

Message from the Editor: This is the latest in a series of posts on adventures in hair product marketing. The reader is invited to see the earlier installments for a fuller understanding of the background to the story.





Another trip. Another airport  lounge. I picked up a newspaper and ordered a beer at the bar. As usual, I sought a seat by one of the tall windows where I could watch the choreography of aircraft loading and unloading and the swarms of service vehicles speeding here and there on the tarmac below. The sun was just starting to set.

I sipped at the beer, scanned the headlines without much interest and slipped into a shallow doze.

I awoke to realize that someone had plopped himself into the chair opposite mine. He was talking loudly on his mobile phone while at the same time flipping through pages on a tablet screen on his lap.

He put down his phone, closed the computer lid and looked up at me. “I remember you,” he said. “You’re in marketing, right?”

It took a moment for the memory wheels in my head to click into alignment. Buying time, I answered, “Yes, I am.”

He sipped his wine. “I thought so. Remember me? We met before. I think it was Heathrow, or maybe Charles de Gaulle.”

I examined him more closely. He had the wiry athletic build and deep suntan of an outdoors man. He wore polished boots, a pink pinstriped dress shirt with open collar and a tan suit. His hair was brownish with streaks of gray, neatly trimmed and professionally styled. His brown leather bag was monogrammed in gold with the initials AJP. He had a half-finished glass of white wine beside him.

The brain-wheel clicked.

“Ah yes, you’re the hair doc. You’re the guy who travels around the world seeking out rare exotic ingredients for shampoos.”

He extracted a silver cardholder from his suit pocket, opened it and slid a business card across the table to me. I picked it up. On it was a swooshing yellow-orange logo vaguely reminiscent of a certain government leader’s hairdo, with a tagline “Ask the Doc.”  Under it was his name and contact information.

Dr. Alfredo J. Pompadour

Explorer, Scientist, Educator, Ecologist, Consultant

He finished the glass of wine and rose. “You want another beer?”

“Yes, please.”

He returned to our window seats with filled glasses, and we both gazed silently for about 15 seconds as a giant Airbus jet taxied to a halt at the gate below us.

As the jet noise slowly subsided, I asked, “So how’s the hair products business?  Last time we met you were working on a cure for baldness.”

He gently stroked the top of his head. “We had some spectacular failures, but in the end it worked. Unfortunately the company held all the patents, but they gave me a pretty good payout.”

He took a sip of wine. “You’re in marketing, so you’ll probably appreciate this. I’m re-branding myself. You want to see my website?”

He flipped open the tablet to reveal a colorful homepage with gorgeous rotating panoramic photos showing a wind-swept rocky seashore, a tropical waterfall, an icy Arctic landscape and a high Alpine meadow covered with wildflowers. The headline in bold letters said “Where’s the Doc?”

“So are you still doing field work?” I asked.

“Sort of. But I’m not on the corporate payroll anymore. I’m concentrating on building out my personal brand. I have more than fifty thousand followers on my social media pages. I’m in great demand on the lecture circuit, and I’m on my way to speak at a big hair-industry trade show. I’m in discussions with a producer to get a regular gig on a syndicated TV channel that specializes in hair programming.”

“Sweet,” I murmured.

“Wherever I go into the field, I engage with my followers on social media with relevant content. Here I am in Spitzbergen.”

He touched the screen with his forefinger, and up came a video clip. The Doctor was posed on an icy ledge beside the sea wearing a furry parka and reflective sunglasses. He held up a handful of seaweed, sniffed it and gave a brief breathless lecture on its excellent qualities for inducing silkiness in your hair.

“And check this one out.” He clicked again, and there he was in khaki shorts and a pith helmet, standing in the sand. Behind him was a body of water. “It’s the Dead Sea,” he whispered. On the screen the Doctor held up a vial of water, looked at the camera and held forth on the benefits of washing your hair in a highly saline solution.

“This was the campaign that really put me on the map,” he said. “I had more than a million Likes. It led to a licensing deal with a Chinese shampoo manufacturer to produce the stuff. Our cost of materials is negligible. We hire some locals to fetch pails of water from the Dead Sea, bottle it and ship to the factory, where it’s combined with some other herbs and extracts from my field work. We collaborated with a hot European marketing agency to package and brand it, and we’re selling it into top-of-the-line hotels.”

“Very impressive,” I nodded. “I think I saw it in a hotel bathroom recently.”

He paused for a few seconds. He leaned close to me and lowered his voice. “The timing is perfect to build a personal brand in the hair products space. For the first time in history, we actually have a highly visible public leader in America who truly appreciates the value of Big Hair.”  His voice dropped to a whisper. “We’re hoping to engage with certain family members to line up a Twitter endorsement. That’s when we’ll go viral.”

He leaned back in his chair. “I always knew I belonged in marketing,” he said.

I glanced at my watch, rose and grabbed my bags.“Gotta go,” I said, “Good luck.”

As I headed toward the lounge exit, I turned for a last look. He smiled and raised his wine glass in an air-toast. He held it delicately by the stem with his pinky finger slightly extended.

I walked quickly to the gate where my flight was already boarding. As I took my seat on the aircraft I remembered there was a troubling question I’d been meaning to ask Dr. Pompadour. “What, exactly, is a volumizing shampoo?”

Author’s note:  Dr. Pompadour is a fictional character and any resemblance to a living person is purely accidental and unintentional. The only thing true in this story is the Dead Sea shampoo. I saw it in a hotel bathroom in Amsterdam.