“Sales Pitch” was published in Future in June 1954. It can be found in Second Variety and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick in pp. 175–187. See Dick’s comments on this story in the same volume on page. 413.
Ed Morris is making his daily return commute from Ganymede to Earth. The voyage is bad enough, but Morris mostly hates the advertisements that followed him during the entire trip. A mixture of video ads and audio ads were his constant companions on his drive. Even after the drive, advertising robots accompanies him every step until he reached his home.
His wife Sally reminds Morris that it is his thirty-seventh birthday. Morris is too exhausted to enjoy it. He complains about the commute, especially the ads. Sally empathizes, recalling how robot follow her while shopping. Morris recommends moving out to Proxima, where there are not many people, free land, and peace from the commercial culture. Morris warns that if they do not go, the robots will eventually get them. The doorbell is rung.
At the door is a robot claiming to sell a fasrad. After introductions, the robot concludes that a fasrad will help improve their life at home. It begins to demonstrate some of the features of the fasrad (which is the robot itself). It can tunnels in the floor in case of a nuclear attack, repair broken appliances, and perform certain general household chores. It explains that it is the domestic model. There is also a model for construction, management, bureaucracy, and military.
That evening they discuss the sales pitch. Sally is sympathetic to the purchase, believing that the fasrad is not too expensive and that they get a commission when their friends buy it. This should be easy since it sells itself. Morris goes out into the living room and the fasrad is still there, ready to answer any question Morris asks it. It refuses to leave because Morris cannot order him around until he purchases it. The fasrad explains that it will stay with him until Morris commits to the purchase. The fasrad begins to go through a variety of household tasks, including completing the taxes. It concludes that Morris’ wife is not intelligent to do these things on her own. Early in the morning, Morris makes his way for the commute.
The the refueling station on Mars the fasrad continues to make itself useful by repairing the ship. Morris questions why its will do these jobs for him before the purchase is made. The fasrad tells Morris that the bill—payable in four installments—will be soon delivered and that the company already considers him sold. Morris changes course toward Centaurus.
During the trip, the fasrad constantly complains about the needs for repair and the need to return to the solar system. Eventually the ship, as predicted, explodes.
Morris, badly injured, on a devastated ship on the surface of Proixma enjoys the sight he has waited his entire life to see. The fasrad stands up and reloads its sales pitch from the beginning.
In 1978, Dick retreated from this story, suggesting that a better ending would have been to make Morris and the fasrad become good friends in the end. He thinks that the fans who criticized the story were right to attack its pessimism. Dick’s alternative ending is actually more realistic and pessimistic because we do seem to come to terms with consumerism, making it a part of ourselves and our identity. While we may realize how intrusive and odious the advertisement regimen we are exposed to is, most of us still accept the basic logic of consumerism, making our purchases dutifully and ensuring that our homes are filled with the latest contraptions. Yes, our world is not yet as bad as that of Ed Morris, but we do see the creep of ads in every area of life.
The growing power of advertisement over our lives was studied in depth by Naomi Klein in No Logo. Her thesis was that corporations do not merely try to sell a product. They are more interested in selling a brand and brand loyalty. “Sell a man a can of tuna you feed him for a day. Sell him Sunkist and you have a customer for life.” The power of the opening pages of this story is how advertisements fall into any open space. Merchandizing hates a vacuum. If you read closely there is also a suggestion that the ads Morris sees target him specifically. He is targeted with products that will solve problems of middle aged, overworked, married men. Stress medicine, remedies for flatulence, products to help safe a flagging sex life, products to help manage office politics, and endocrine balancers. Part of the annoyance Morris must feel is that the advertisements he sees everyday reinforce his own feelings of inadequacy.
To me, the problem in the story is not the ending as such but the fact that Dick failed to see that the fasrad he imagined is actually a good product. Sure, its sales pitch is a bit intrusive and odious, but as Sally noticed almost right away, the fasrad would become a real good help around the house. “It painted the walls of the room and constructed new furniture to go with them. It reinforced the ceiling in the bathroom. It increase the number of heat-vents from the furnace. It put in new electrical wiring. It tore out all the fixtures in the kitchen and assembled more modern ones. It examined Morris’ financial accounts and computed his income text for the following year. It sharped all the pencils; it caught hold of his wrist and quickly diagnosed his high blood-pressure as psychosomatic.” (183) How is any of this bad? Well, Dick had a bee in his bonnet about consumer technologies and automation that made him mistrustful of machines like the fasrad. The only way it could become odious is by incessantly and ultimately forcefully selling itself to the Morris family. Morris’ choice to run away from his home and his fasrad revealed deeper issues than simply wanting to avoid consumerism. He—like Dick apparently—longed for a simpler life. However, maybe there is hope to make peace with the fasrad, not as a symbol of the intrusion of marketing in every part of our life, but as the ultimate labor-saving device.
Wikipedia page for “Sales Pitch.”
A radio play based on “Sales Pitch.”