Chocolate chances are...

July 17, 2000

Chocolate chances are...

This has been what I would categorize as a Very Bad Year for Brian McCluskey. First he gets busted for trying to buy methamphetamines and draws a year in the caliboose out in Utah.

But his fortunes change when he opens a bag of M&Ms to discover they were all blue and purple, leading him to believe he was a million-dollar prize winner in the company's "Fix-Up Mix-Up" national contest.

News media picked up the story, the deputy who gave him the chocolate for helping with some chores was interviewed on the "Today" show and McCluskey doubtless had one very happy night thinking he would walk out of the jail a rich man.

But the ecstasy lasted about as long as a bite of chocolate, because the next day the candy company said he was a first-prize winner, not a grand-prize winner. Of course first prize wasn't chopped liver - it was chopped chocolate, or more specifically, a coupon for another bag of M&Ms.


Seems like a big drop-off between grand prize and first prize, if you ask me. Grand prize is $1 million; first prize is a bag of candy. Isn't there supposed to be a Chevy Geo or a three-day vacation to the Poconos in between there someplace?

Ed McMahon must be spinning in his grave. What? You're kidding. How long hasn't he been dead?

This, to me, is further proof of the downfall of corporate contests as an art form. Why, I remember the days of the Tigerama contest that the Esso petroleum company sponsored back in the '60s. With every fill-up you got a scratch-off card (Esso was on the cutting edge of scratch-off technology) that showed the left half of a prize or the right half of a prize. If you matched both right and left you won whatever prize was pictured.

I got a bike that way. It was aces. Banana saddle, high-rise handlebars, chopper forks. Do they still put those streamers in handlebar grips? Just wondering.

Unfortunately, this happened when I was an impressionable 7 years old and planted the delusive seed that contests were inherently fair and that a person had a chance of winning.

When I was 12, I think, I bought 48 metric tons of Tastee Freeze food in order to get two free cheeseburgers and a small fries, courtesy of some game-piece feature they had going.

Even there, you did eventually win, which is a lot different than today, and here I am speaking specifically about the moronic contest sewage pumped out by the Pepsi Cola Corp.

Pepsi may be the only company whose contests have driven people to switch to the competition. I changed over to Coke not because I can stand the taste of it, but because I became so insulted by the string of "Sorry, please play again" messages under every last living Pepsi cap.

Memo to Pepsi marketers: When you open a product package for a consumable good, the first word you see should not be "sorry."

Sorry what? Sorry this doesn't taste better? Sorry we're charging 99 cents for a product containing mostly sugar water and air bubbles?

In February, Pepsi had an NCAA-based contest where you won a prize if the school named under the bottle cap won the 2000 college basketball tournament.

First I got Howard University. Then Long Island University. Then something like West Southeastern Mississippi Agrarian State. I switched to Coke right then.

I now as a matter of policy don't buy any company's product when said company is sponsoring a contest. They are annoying and the best you can hope to win is a threadbare T-shirt or a flimsy bookbag with a company logo on it that transforms us into brain-dead billboards dully providing the company with free advertising.

It all makes me very depressed. Which makes me crave chocolate. Pass the M&Ms.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist

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