Imagine for a minute you're sitting down to a delicious steak dinner. You've got a giant baked potato, with butter and sour cream, an ear of corn picked by hand from a beautiful field, rolls fresh from the oven, and there, in the middle of your plate, smothered with spices, is a gorgeous hunk of meat. You stick your fork into the steak, slice off a big piece, dip it into a little A1 sauce, lift it towards you lips, and stop, just short of your mouth, to quickly check the bottom of the meat for the words: "Buy T-Bone or Sirloin, Get One Free."
It's a strange phenomenon, "winning" when you eat. You can win when you open a candy bar. You can win when you drink a pop. You can win when you crack open a bag of chips. And finishing a box of cereal is as close to a guaranteed win as anything. Can steak be far behind? Soon enough cows will branded with the slogan "1 in 6 Get Free Heifer"
Only in America. And people wonder why we're an obese nation? It isn't that we're fat, it's that we're competitive. Food is all a big game to us. Opening a bottle of pop is practically a spectator sport. In fact, it's leading the race to replace hockey as the fourth major.
As far as marketing ploys go, this strategy isn't so bad. People like games. People like it when they win games. They like it even more when winning a game earns them a prize. And if they can win a game and get a prize for nothing more spectacular than digestion? Truly, is there anything sweeter? It's like a pie-eating contest without the stomachache or shirt-stains. And the blue ribbon for drinking Mountain Dew goes to... every third person!
Part of the appeal is that people feel so darn good when they win a contest. It doesn't matter if the contest is one of skill, strength, blind-luck, or yes, even mass consumerism. When people win they feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment. "A temporary tattoo at the bottom of my Cracker Jacks? Yes, I really am that good."
The catch, of course, is that you always stand a better chance of losing than you do of winning. And let's not kid ourselves, because when you aren't winning, you're losing. There aren't any ties in snacking. Either you win or you lose. You never see "Oooh, that was a close one, tell ya what, we'll call it even" printed on the inside of a candy bar wrapper. No, the phrase is always something like "Sorry, this is not a winning piece."
And if the piece isn't a winning piece, then that means it must be a losing piece. Sure, they print their safe little "you didn't win" message on the wrapper, but we all know what they really mean. It's something more to the effect of "Ha-ha! You pathetic LOSER! You grabbed the wrong candy bar. You thought it was a winner, but you weren't even close. Missed by a mile. What a moron. If you can't even pick out the right candy bar, how are you ever going to succeed in life? Plus you're ugly and you smell bad. Loser!" And that's the trouble with Snickers. Because behind that sweet chocolatey, peanutty goodness there lies the malignant soul of a school-yard bully.
Frankly, that's not what I need from my food. My self-esteem is low enough as it is, so it doesn't help that every time I open a bottle of cherry coke I take a shot to my ego. If this were physical abuse we'd never stand for it. Here, have a bottle of pop. Either you'll get another one free, or we'll kick you in the shins! Good luck!
Maybe the reason we sustain the emotional abuse is because we're just stupider than the people selling it to us. Because now, not only do they deny you a prize and insult your ability to complete simple tasks, they actually take the time to encourage you to try again. "Drink Coke, Play Again" say the 11 bottle caps on my desk. They don't even bother to tell you that you didn't win because they're too busy lining you up for the next shot they're gonna take. In four little words they manage to get across a denial ("You lose"), an insult ("You're stupid") and a tricky hook that they use to reel you right back in ("But we bet you aren't so stupid that you won't play again!"). And it works too. After every one of those 11 bottle caps told me I was a loser I said to myself "But maybe I'll win next time. That'll show 'em!"
And sure enough, on the 12th bottle, I was the 1 in 12 who won a free coke. Yes, I really am that good.