REVIEW: The Financial Review

Lisa Dabscheck
September 1999

"Marketing is like LA," says Scat. "It's like a gorgeous, brainless model on cocaine having sex and drinking Perrier in LA." It's not a thought you would expect to hear uttered by a marketing graduate. But when Scat, a marketer on a mission in 26-year-old Maxx Barry's debut novel, Syrup, says it, he's not being derogatory.

Syrup (Viking, $22.95) is a satire of Hollywood proportions that obliterates an conception that the film, advertising and marketing industries - and the corporations that fund them - have ever stumbled across the term "integrity." Barry's send-up of the saccharine world of American-style mass-marketing is set in its most literal embodiment - Coca-Cola. What other corporation can be said to add fizz to syrup as convincingly as the one in the trademark red can? As Scat says in the book: "I know Coke is one part faintly repulsive black syrup, seven parts marketing and 42 parts marketing, but I still drink it. Perception is reality."

Still, Barry insists the discoveries Scat makes along his voyage through the bowels of corporate America are endemic to most large corporations; Coke illustrates a widespread phenomenon.

Slick design, short chapters designed to hold the reader's ever-diminishing attention span, a big dipper of a plot and hilarious characters reflect Barry's view. There's the ambitious "ideas man", the sultry broad with enough savvy to take ideas to fruition; the empty vessel who lacks ideas and follow-through yet successfully markets himself as having an abundance of both, plus out-of-touch executives.

A marketing graduate from Monash University in Melbourne, Barry developed his cynicism at Hewlett-Packard. Although he insists that HP is a "fantastic company", he admits to drawing some of his inspiration from the sales team he worked with. "I definitely ripped off the occasional line," he says.

But how do you market a book that satirises the very tactics you must employ to do so?

It's a tough proposition for an author who, like any other, wants to sell his books. Barry is diplomatic. "Writing the book and then doing the publicity and selling the book are two separate things," he says.