What Damage Control is Like When the Name of Your Product Is "666"
(First published in X Magazine, May1994)
I was walking the aisles of the local IGA grocery store with my friend Diane when she
stopped and silently pointed to an item on the top shelf. It was a yellow box marked with the mark.
You know the one I meanTHE mark: the number 666. Closer inspection revealed (1) this was a box containing a bottle of cough syrup, and (2) it was the only box the store had. (I've since been on the lookout every time I go to a grocery or drug store, but this is the only instance I've witnessed of a Satanic haunting of an Arizona cough-syrup aisle.)
Naturally, I had to find out why in the name of Madison Avenue anyone would name their
product after one of the most enduring prophecies of evil in all the Western world. Stuffing the
sides of my mouth with bunched up Glad baggies and affecting a hick-ish weedbender accent,
I called the maker of 666 cough syrup, a tiny company down in Florida. It turned out to be
a hapless receptionist's initiation into the secret history of the Beast...
Hi! I was wondering, do you have a comment line?
Uh, well, not really, but...[laughs nervously] do you, uh, wish to
make a comment?
Well, I have a question about one of your cough syrups.
I wanted to know what the name of it was. I just picked it up off the shelf today, and I wanted to know what the name of it
Well, there is...actual cough syrup should not be on the shelves...I think it's called a "666 Cough Syrup," and I
think that what was out there, um, has, is outdated. We are reformulating that, but I think it will still be "666 Cough
Syrup" when it comes back on the market. But we also have other "666" cold preparations, one is a 3-oz. liquid and one is a 6-oz.
Yeah, that's what this is, it says "Cold Preparation."
But that's the name of it? It's "666?"
I'll get the bottle. Hold on.
[I cough horribly while she hunts around.]
Yep. Um, "666 Cold Preparation," analgesic decongestant, and then there's also a [reading] "666 Preparation, with quinine, for relief of headaches, body aches and pains, and fever due to colds."
I see. Now, what I was wondering is, why is it called that?
Why is it called "666?" That's what I'm wondering.
Why is it called "666?"
Yeah. I mean, that's kind of a WEIRD
Oh, well, it's been around for years, and, uh, that's what it was years ago and they've kept the name.
When did that start? Do you know?
When did it start...?
When did they name it that?
Gee, I don't know for sure, I'm really fairly new to the company, but I know that it's been around for a long time.
'Cos I mean, did you ever, I was just curious, you know, 'cos I used to live next door to a minister
and uh, did you ever read the Bible about that? Have you ever heard of that?
What, you mean like, the devil or something to ward off evil, or something?
Yeah, it's like, you know, I mean it's the mark of the beast, you know, and I was wondering why
Oh, I don't, that has, that doesn't have anything to do with this.
Well, it's just kind of WEIRD, I never
I never knew of a cough syrup that was named after a number.
It's just kind of WEIRD.
No, it's been around like that, and I think maybe, um, oh, I'm trying to think how far it goes back.
[More coughing as she asks other employees: "How far back does `666' go? Who thought of the name? Why was that? Fifty years ago? Sixty years ago? When was that? What year was that?"]
Uh, it was actually, uh, probably around the early 1900s, and, uh, one of the founders of the company, apparently they used to write a number of prescriptions at that time, for quinine in Florida for malaria and things, and it was a prescription number, that's all.
It was just a, you know, 'cos I, like I say, I used to live next door to a minister. He hardly ever got sick! And you know, I was in the store and there was just one box of it up on the shelf, you know, and I didn't pay much attention to it, but when I got it home I was looking at it and I says to my wife, you know, what woulda possessed, possessed somebody to, I mean, you know
It..it...it has nothing to do with that, I mean I guess I've heard that story, too, but this was a prescription number and it goes back like to the early 1900s, and so they just picked up that name for it.
I was thinking, it was funny, you know, I was saying "what possessed them." I was thinking it was a bad pun.
You're not affiliated with Procter & Gamble?
No, no, no. This is a very small drug company. It's a locally...privately-owned company, and it's been around for...oh, for a long time. And I think that, uh, one of the original stores was in Monticello, Florida, and so that's the name, Monticello Drug Company.
You mean...but I'm all the way in Arizona! And I got it all the way out here.
Oh, well, they ship all over.
Yeah. But it's been around a long, long time. And that was it, it was just a prescription number, and so when they were writing up, you know, prescriptions for, you know, something with quinine for malaria, and um, but they just picked that name.
I mean, 'cos, you know they had that thing with Procter & Gamble, and Liz Claiborne? Did you hear about that? Where they said that she was involved in Satanism?
Well yeah, no, I...I...I don't, uh, now this is, nope, we're just a small private drug company, and uh...there's a number of "666" products.
And they're ALL called "666?!?"
Yeah, there's, um, yep, there's a "666" preparation with quinine, and a couple of cold preparations, and some cold tablets.
'Cos I never heard of it before. And I thought that was
Yeah, it's, yes, probably, if you had lived in Florida maybe you would have, but living elsewhere I don't think maybe you would have.
I never been to Florida. But did you ever read that in the Bible, though?
Uh, no, I didn't.
Let meI'll just read you this one verse here. It says, it's in the Book of Revelation, and it says, "Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is six hundred threescore and six."
No. No, never
Threescore is sixty, you know, like in "Fourscore and seven years ago."
I just think that's kinda WEIRD. It's kinda like bad PR. I was thinking, you know, it's not like every day you see the Mark of the Beast in the supermarket.
Well, I guess you could, you know, make what you wanted out of any number of things, but this certainly was not the intent. I mean, I guess I have heard of that but I had not read it myself, and, uh, this was not the origin of the, this is not the reason
Even your phone number is "666!"
Right, exactly, exactly.
I thought, man! Is this like...you know, I'm just trying to play devil's advocate, here, you know, no pun intended.
It just seemed like a WEIRD coincidence. Like I say, I used to live next door to a minister. And he hardly ever got sick! I just thought that was kind of WEIRD. You know. Kinda strange.
Don't you think maybe you could
One of those strange coincidences, I guess.
I think you should probably change the name, though.
I guess you could look at it as a cold being bad, something you don't want to have until you have
I mean, I'm not like paranoid or nothing, but you know I got kids, and they're listening to heavy metal and stuff, and they got "666" on the album covers, and Satan, and demons, and all this whole thing, and like I say, you don't every day see the Mark of the Beast.
Well, you know, a lot of people, though, have been buying it for years, and they're, you know, then if you change the name, they don't like that either, so.
Yeah, but then at least it wouldn't be Satanic. Like I say, I'm not trying to be paranoid, but
I used to live next door to a minister, you know?
It really has nothing to do with that at all, so you can rest assured that it does not.
Do you think you could send me some information maybe on your products?
Gee, we don't have any booklets or anything. As I said, we're, you know, a very small private company, and there's very, you know, we just have
'Scuse me. I'm sick.
[I really was, in fact.]
So we don't have like a booklet or anything.
So you couldn't send me no information or nothin'?
No. I don't have anything like that to send.
Well, do you think I could maybe likeI mean, I'm not, I'm not paranoid, but I'm just, I'm a little concerneddo you think I could maybe have my minister call you? To straighten this out?
Just a minute.
[Long pause. Long, long pause. Much coughing.]
[Long coughing fit from me.]
Excuse me. Uh, it really, I mean, I guess if he wanted to, but it really, the people here, as I talked to them upstairs, really, they do know what that symbol stands for, but everyone here is a Christian, God-fearing people
Is that right?
and, uh, it really has nothing to do with that, and, you know, as I said, it was from prescription, so, um, it's
You got Christians, you say, working there? Well, they could talk to a minister, yeah?
[Now she's flustered]
Well, I mean, if, if, if you feel it would be necessary, but it's not, I mean, you can tell him it isn't that at all, and you can tell him, explain to him, it was simply a prescription number, um
But I mean it's not, like, "665" or "667." It's "666."
They don't put "665" on the heavy-metal albums.
Well, as I say, you know, back in 1900s they certainly probably were not thinking of that, and as I say, they had the prescription number and they thought it might probably be the thing that they would name, you know, their cold preparation. And that's what they did.
It was written, like, 2,000 years ago, though, in the Bible.
It's been around a long time.
you know, a lot of people, you know, I-I-I don't, I certainly don't associate it with that. At all. I think maybe it's what you make of it.
'Cos you know how they had that Procter & Gamble, their trademark symbol on the soap, there? It was like some Satanic thing, and they had to change it? You remember that?
Uh, no I don't.
It was maybe two years ago.
And then Liz Claiborne, she's supposed to be some...Satan thing?
No, I don't...I guess I don't pay much attention to that kind of stuff.
It's scary stuff. Like I say, I'm not trying to be paranoid, but it's just that
I used to live next door to a minister.
You should certainly disregard this.
He hardly ever got sick! So you say it should be okay then?
I certainly think so.
'Cos I haven't even taken any of it. You know, I'm a little concerned.
Well, um, you might want to check the expiration date, if it says "Cough Syrup."
Says, uh, well, no, it says "Cold Preparation."
Uh-huh. Hold on a minute, sir.
[Another long pause.]
Excuse me, I had other phones to answer and...whatever...but if you have the "Cold Preparation," I would just check the expiration date, but other than that, I mean, some people swear by it, and, you know everybody has their own, you know, cold preparation that they take, that they like, and, you know
It says "11/94." So that's
That would be good until, right, November of 1994.
I haven't even taken any of it yet.
'Cos, you know, I'm just a little concerned.
There are some people, I had a man call me the other day and we, uh, he uh, was looking for stores that we ship to in...where he lived, I think he lived in Texas, because he's been buying it forever, and you know, he swore by it, but you know, everybody has their own
Well, it's not like addictive or nothing, is it?
It ain't addictive or nothing, is it?
Oh god no!
If I take it, I'll be stuck having to, like, I'll have to have just this one
No. No, no no...
brand all the time?
'Cos I usually take the Coricidin. They were just out of it.
Uh-huh. Well, I mean, you can give it a try, if it works, good. If it doesn't, well then, try something else.
I wasn't really concerned so much about the medical so much as I was thinking if I was drinking this stuff and not knowing what it is, it could be some Satan thing, I don't know...with that "666" on there.
I don't know if you was raised in a church, but I used to live next door to a minister, and uh
he hardly ever got sick!
It was WEIRD!
What can I say? I know. Listen, I have got another line here going....
Okay. But there's nothing you could send to me, though?
No. We really don't.
Well, I'll contact my minister. The guy who used to live next door to me? And I'll have him call you.
I'll feel better.
Thanks for your time.