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Despair Inc. the brand for cynics

Despair Inc.'s pessimist mug sells for $9.95.
Despair Inc.'s pessimist mug sells for $9.95.

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DALLAS, Texas (Reuters) -- For every motivational platitude that creates a bad attitude and every corporate catch phrase that instills employee rage, there may be a new customer for a company called Despair.

Dallas-based Despair Inc. has built a business in a line of products it bills as demotivational.

Despair sells calendars, posters, coffee mugs and a variety of office paraphernalia emblazoned with images that are meant to inspire but are undercut with messages that are deflating.

It wants to appeal to cynics who think that a snappy phrase plastered on the walls of an office will not make up for years of mismanagement and the prospects for increased job losses.

"A lot of people find motivational products demeaning," said Despair founder E.L. Kersten. "We are the brand for the cynics, pessimists and the chronically unsuccessful."

Kersten said campaigns to boost employee morale, instill the concept of "great service," or build teamwork often articulate a vision that is untrue, despite what a company's top executives and marketing geniuses may believe.

For the "teamwork" entry on the demotivational 2004 calendar, there is a picture of a rolling snowball with the phrase: "A few harmless flakes working together can unleash an avalanche of destruction."

"Ambition" depicts a bear waiting for a salmon that has completed an arduous upstream swim to spawn, accompanied by the phrase: "The journey of a thousand miles sometimes ends very, very badly."

Unleash the power of mediocrity

The company promises to give customers a brand new sense of buyer's remorse and help them to unleash the power of mediocrity. It offers advice to managers that the best way to resolve morale problems is to fire all the unhappy people.

And the message has started to catch on, Kersten says.

Kersten started the business in 1998 with a couple of friends in 1998 and Despair has blossomed into a company with $4 million in annual sales.

Still, the figure is just a drop in the ocean compared with the billions Americans and U.S. businesses spend each year on motivational books, seminars and speakers as they try to tap into the unlimited reaches of their personal power.

A speaker with a major firm that produces motivational seminars said slogans which promote the ideas of cynics can be destructive.

"It takes a lot of work to motivate people, but only one sourpuss to turn an office into a bunch of sourpusses," he said, asking to remain anonymous.

Kersten has a Ph.D. in Organizational Communication, which examines how power flows in a big organization. He once taught at a college in New York and then was lured to Dallas to work for an Internet service provider.

From his experience, he said that people in sales seem to appreciate the power of motivational tools, but there are usually some cynics among the ranks of engineers, accountants and others working in their office cubicles.

Perhaps Kersten would enjoy sitting down and discussing the value of demotivational products with the folks trying to inspire through catch phrases.

After all, he thinks a meeting shows "that none of us is as dumb as all of us."

Copyright 2004 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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