Meadville Tribune

Lifestyles

September 11, 2012

Why free stuff has always been so irrationally exciting

Loyalty points, frequent-flier miles, corporate-branded umbrellas, tote bags, stress balls and other trifles: All are contemporary versions of an old and very effective marketing strategy. We have always been suckers for free stuff.

Many of us remember pulverizing dry cereal to dust in an attempt to retrieve a free prize at the bottom of the box. Older generations were drawn to the miniature books, plastic charms and base-metal tokens inside boxes of Cracker Jack, with caramel-coated popcorn and peanuts often an afterthought.

That strategy was hugely successful, but it wasn't new. Rueckheim Bros. & Eckstein, the maker of Cracker Jack, was probably inspired by American confectioners of the 1870s, who targeted young customers by selling "prize packages" containing cash, jewelry and prints. Plus candy.

Confectionery supplier John H. Miller & Son, for example, offered 21 different prize packages in its 1876 promotional flier, including the Great Watch Novelty, which guaranteed that one out of every two boxes contained a new silver coin, and one in 100 held a new watch. Other candy- filled prize packages contained marbles, charms, puzzles, whistles, pop guns and assorted other gimcracks, the manufacture of which was a lucrative business in its own right.

W.C. Smith of Buffalo, for example, specialized in confectioners' toys for "penny goods," and Chicago's Dowst Brothers, which would later produce the TootsieToy line of cast-metal cars and airplanes, began their business producing thimble-sized tokens in the shape of rabbits, boots, flowers, horseshoes and boats for candy boxes.

Confectioners, in turn, may have been inspired to offer incentives by the publishers of children's serials, who in the 1870s began encouraging young readers to "canvass" — that is, to solicit subscriptions from their friends — acting, in effect, as cheaply paid agents. Successful canvassers were promised remuneration in the form of choice prizes. The magazine St. Nicholas promised a pair of ice skates (five subscribers), a telegraph (10 subscribers), a tool chest (15 subscribers), a piano (300 subscribers), or free tuition to "any school or academy in the U.S." (500 subscribers).

Text Only
Lifestyles
  • web_starbucks-cof_big_ce.jpg Starbucks sees more Apple-like stores after Colombia debut

    This week Starbucks opened its first location in Colombia — a 2,700-square-foot store with a heated patio, concrete columns, mirrors on the ceiling and walls of colorful plants.

    July 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • Are America's biggest alcohol brands targeting the country's underage youth?

    Underage drinkers - those between the ages of 18 and 20, most specifically - are more heavily exposed to printed alcohol advertisements than any other age group, according to a new study. And it's America's biggest booze companies that could be to blame.

    July 10, 2014

  • How professors are using Facebook to teach

    Technology is an established part of the lives of students. But university lecturers are becoming increasingly frustrated at how they must compete with tablets and laptops for students' attention in the lecture hall.

    July 10, 2014

  • Why does the Vatican need a bank?

    The Vatican Bank's history reads more like Dan Brown than the financial pages, but its worst -- and weirdest -- days may be behind it.

    July 10, 2014

  • Careful planning is the key to a successful Mother’s Day visit

    Are you planning to visit your mom at a senior living residence for Mother’s Day? Are you wondering what you should do or what you should bring? Our experience may provide you with some valuable insight.

    May 10, 2014

  • Which foods are the worst for the environment?

    As with most arguments about our food supply, though, it's not that simple. Although beef is always climatically costly, pork or chicken can be a better choice than broccoli, calorie for calorie.

    March 12, 2014

  • Old Spice attracting women in gender-bending win for P&G

    Young women are embracing Old Spice - long known as the brand dad kept in the medicine cabinet - even as P&G's marketing continues to focus on their male peers.

    March 12, 2014

  • news_planesearch.jpg Missing Malaysian jetliner confuses a world that's online 24/7

    The disappearance five days ago of a Malaysian Airline Systems Bhd. aircraft with 239 people on board is confounding search teams and a global audience used to around-the-clock connectivity and real-time updates.

    March 12, 2014 1 Photo

  • news_nycexplosion.jpg VIDEO: Aftermath of NYC building collapse

    Footage from the New York Daily News shows firefighters responding to a building collapse at East 116th Street and Park Avenue in Harlem. At least 11 minor injuries had been reported late Wednesday morning.

    March 12, 2014 1 Photo

  • news_google.jpg First Apple, now Google hit with kids' app lawsuit

    Last month, 4- and 5-year-old brothers in New York quickly spent $65.95 in real money to buy virtual goods in Marvel's Run Jump Splash game on the family tablet. They were able to rack up the charges without entering a password. And for that, the boys' mother has joined a class-action lawsuit filed Tuesday against Google, accusing the company of deceiving consumers about its in-app purchase system, which critics say makes it too easy for kids to spend money on their Android devices.

    March 12, 2014 1 Photo

Business Marquee
AP Video
Texas Scientists Study Ebola Virus Smartphone Powered Paper Plane Debuts at Airshow Southern Accent Reduction Class Cancelled in TN Raw: Deadly Landslide Hits Indian Village Obama Chides House GOP for Pursuing Lawsuit New Bill Aims to Curb Sexual Assault on Campus Russia Counts Cost of New US, EU Sanctions 3Doodler Bring 3-D Printing to Your Hand Six PA Cops Indicted for Robbing Drug Dealers Britain Testing Driverless Cars on Roadways Raw: Thousands Flocking to German Crop Circle At Least 20 Chikungunya Cases in New Jersey Raw: Obama Eats Ribs in Kansas City In Virginia, the Rise of a New Space Coast Raw: Otters Enjoy Water Slides at Japan Zoo NCAA Settles Head-injury Suit, Will Change Rules Raw: Amphibious Landing Practice in Hawaii Raw: Weapons Fire Hits UN School in Gaza Raw: Rocket Launches Into Space With Cargo Ship Broken Water Main Floods UCLA
Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide
Stocks