Last week I wrote a not altogether kindly FC blog post about the Staples Desk Apprentice, brazenly calling it a “hulking monstrosity.” One week later, it looks like I’ll have to at least nibble on a bit of crow. I got a call this morning from Shuan Clair, who works for Staples’ PR agency, telling me while he found last week’s post “humorous,” he thought I should hear the Desk Apprentice’s sales stats so far. Fair enough. In one week, the company sold all of the roughly 30,000 units it had rushed to market to be available the day after the episode ran. And–lending credence to H.L. Mencken’s famous theory that “No one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public”–the waiting list for the Desk Apprentice stands at 15,000 and continues to grow.
Jumping into natty, never-wrong journalist mode, I began to pepper Shaun with mostly irrelevant questions about the staying power of the Desk Apprentice (Shaun: “Will this be a holiday item? Hmm, I don’t know.”). But then I managed to at least ask whether it was being bought for novelty purposes or because a rush of people really think it’s the next Post-it note. Surprise, surprise, people are buying it as a “conversation piece.” For the first time since I reluctantly cleared (a lot) of space on my desk to give this menacing paean to corporate bureaucracy a home, I finally understood why I didn’t just lob the Desk Apprentice into the garbage dump right after opening it. It is one of the most remarkable conversation pieces I’ve ever had. It’s way more effective than my old Balinese rosewood nameplate (now de-commissioned), more approachable than My Pet Fat or the Life-Saver candy dish. So forget the water cooler, having a physical artifact tied to a popular show around which we can gather with corporate chums and shoot the breeze is genuinely a marketing revolution in the making. I can see it now: The Tony Soprano Desk Chair, The Desperate Housewives’ Pen Collection, The Survivor Desk Tiki Torch.