The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

January 30, 2009

Buy in Ridiculous Quantities and Save

Filed under: shopping — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 10:30 pm

With all the various supermarkets competing with each other around here, it’s no surprise that they’ll often tout their low prices (or in the case of the place I usually end up doing my shopping at, their slightly less horrendous prices than usual, provided you remembered to bring along your sell-your-soul-for-savings card. )  Of course, if they’re selling the stuff cheap they’re going to be trying to make it up on volume, so oftentimes it means they’ll be trying to get you to buy in quantity when they do put things on sale.  One of the more common versions of this is the “10 for $10” sale, which apparently sounds more grandiose than saying each item costs a buck.  Of course, every so often they’ll complicate the heck out of things.  For example, right now they’re running the following sale on Pepsi products:

Buy 2, get 1 free.  Horrendous mangling of a classic logo aside, that’s a deal that’s easy enough to figure out, right?  Over on the Coke side of the aisle, theyre making things a bit more complicated:

That’s 5 12-packs for $14, after some sort of largely superfluous “buy four get one free” deal as long as you buy them all at once.  This means they’ve either got truckloads of the stuff sitting in the backroom that they need to get rid of, or that people won’t have any idea how much it would cost to buy those individually and just toss five into the cart.  Either way, it’s probably a decent deal if you happen to need to stock up on sugar-laden beverages (and actually have somewhere to put all that stuff,) but at the rate I drink soda around here it would literally take me years to go through that much of the stuff.  I’ve still got root beer in the fridge from back when Jones still used corn syrup to make the stuff, to give you some idea of how slowly I go through it.  Of course, if you’d like your sugar buzz in a different form, they can cover you there too:

(Apologies for the blurry photo.) 

Over in the sugar-soaked cereal department you’ll find Cap’n Crunch and Life Cereal for $2.50 a box, or $2.00 a box if you buy 10 (all in one purchase, of course.)  As I’m sure any beleaguered parent out there could probably tell you, ten boxes of Cap’n Crunch is probably just about the last thing you’re going to want to have around the house unless for some reason you actually WANT the kids climbing up the walls for the next month and a half.  For those parents looking for a (very) slightly healthier alternative they provide the option to get a Life (or 10 of them, as the case may be) instead, but even if it’s a bit less sugar-soaked than the alternative, if you’re going to end up buying that much of the stuff  you better hope that Mikey likes it, otherwise you might find yourself eathing the stuff til the cows come home.  And not a moment too soon either, because by theat point you’ll probably have run out of milk.

July 26, 2008

The Study Was Going Great Until the “Bright Shiny Objects” Test

Filed under: Advertising, Food — Tags: , , , , — Brian Lutz @ 2:07 am

For better or for worse, I seem to be something of an expert on the subject of distraction, mostly because it happens to me a lot.  For example, when I write stuff here, it is rare that I am able to just sit down and hammer out an entire post in one sitting.  Usually when I write, I tend to write a couple of sentences, then go wander around the apartment for a bit (usually ending up in the kitchen and snacking, which probably isn’t the best thing to do either.)   When I manage to get back to the computer, I end up checking my e-mail to make sure that nothing important has shown up in the last two minutes since I last checked it, go check a Blog or two and get lost in some 300-post fanboy flamewar comment thread on Kotaku before remembering that I’m supposed to be working on a Blog post.  When I get back to the post, I usually end up rewriting something I wrote three paragraphs ago and tinker around with the graphics a bit, then I finally get around to writing some more stuff before repeating the whole process over again.  Sometimes, it’s a wonder that I manage to get anything posted at all.  At times, even the most trivial of posts here can end up taking hours to write.  I usually just refer to it as “multitasking” and call it good.

After work today, I took a trip over to Costco to go grab a few things (it’s funny how “a few things” at Costco always ends up costing at least $50 and usually closer to $75, but that’s another post.)  Among the stuff I picked up was some cereal to take to work for a quick breakfast.  Frosted Mini-Wheats is one of my typical choices, since I’m rapidly approaching the point where I should probably stop trying to live off of sugar-soaked kid cereals but still somehow fail to do so much of the time (and no, that’s NOT my box of Cocoa Puffs in the cupboard, why do you ask?)  The packaging for the cereal contains what may be one of the more unusual claims I’ve seen printed on a cereal box:

 Everyone in the cereal aisle these days seems to be trying to convince you that Vaguely Fruit-Flavored Technicolor Puffs and Sugar-blasted Cocoa Bombs (of Doom) are healthy because they heard a rumor that someone might have tripped on a catwalk and spilled a sack of whole wheat into the production line last Thursday.  Unless you happen to be eating the stuff that Great Grandpa ate back during his stay at the Sanitarium that nobody likes to talk about or some of the new-age hippie stuff like The People’s Glorious Organic Wheat Puffs (also of Doom,) rarely do you see anyone making such bold scientific claims about the magical powers of cold cereal.  Yet for some reason, Kellogg’s is now claiming that Frosted Mini-Wheats have been clinically shown to improve kids’ attentiveness by nearly 20%.  Why, the stuff is practically a Family-size box of edible Ritalin, without the pesky side effects of making people stay up half the night and write about empty shopping malls on the Internet!

Of course, due to the Truth in Advertising laws, you can’t just go around claiming that your product will make the kids stay focused on their arithmetic lesson even when the pet rabbit in Mrs’ Ryan’s fourth grade class manages to escape from its hutch and wander into the room without some proof to back it up, so further explanation is provided on the side of the box.  As you might expect, they’re not talking about any sort of miracle cure for bright shiny objects here, just the usual bit about how eating food somehow manages to makes you feel less hungry than not eating food.  It goes on to explain how fiber slows down the eating process and “may contribute to a feeling of being full.”  Of course, I’m pretty sure that the cardboard that the box is made out of would contribute to a “feeling of being full” if you somehow managed to eat the stuff in suffcient quantity (not that I have any experience on the subject or anything…)  I don’t think it takes a clinical study to figure any of that stuff out.  So where’s the clinical study anyway?

 

Buried in the fine print, of course.  What the whole thing boils down to is that over the course of three hours, kids that eat Frosted Mini-Wheats manage to somehow be 18% more attentive (which apparently rounds up to 20% to provide a nice round number to plaster on the box in huge fonts) than kids who didn’t eat any breakfast at all.  An earth-shattering revelation to be sure, but that still doesn’t really say anything about what was done to prove this.  To find out more info on the actual testing that was done, you have to go their website (annoying Flash warning).  Aside from the so-called focus games (just a basic Memory match thing and a Sudoku puzzle, much better versions of which can be found at pretty much any reputable and/or disreputable Flash games site,) the site continues to hype the clinical study.  Clicking on the news link greets you with yet another page of breathless hyperbole, with tales of Moms cheering on their Mini-Wheat fueled offspring as they outperformed a group of children that weren’t given any breakfast on some standardized test.  Aside from the fact that the whole entire scenario seems thoroughly absurd (unless the tests were being administered by Bob Barker and the winners were receiving a new car for their efforts,) exactly what kind of example would that be setting for the children anyway?  If your kid comes home from school and complains that there’s a bunch of wheat-eating maniacs on the playground running up the score against the third graders at kickball, at least you’ll know who to blame. 

But even after all that nonsense, they still haven’t bothered to explain anything about how the actual clinical study was done.  For that, you have to click yet another (rather small) link on the page to get to one more page, which finally has a few actual details buried in more of the usual “eating breakfast is good for you” mumbo-jumbo.  It references something known as a “Digit Vigilance test” that is supposed to measure attentiveness, as well as a reaction test.  Some searching on the Internet revealed this example of a Digit Vigilance test, although I can’t seem to actually get it to work.  Given the fact that other places that come up in the search results are trying to sell you these things for hundreds of dollars a pop, I’m going to guess that this is probably a fairly standard test for this type of thing.  They’ve also got the Choice Reaction Time test here, which does seem to work, but it doesn’t seem to give you any resuts from the test (presumably, that’s the part you’re supposed to pay the big bucks for.)  As can be expected, the results here are the same  as everywhere else, although here they’re slightly less gilded in marketing mumbo-jumbo.

So in the end, it takes wading through several pages of fine print and marketing speak to get down to the fact that eating sugar-encrusted breakfast cereal makes you 18% more attentive than not eating sugar-encrusted breakfast  cereal.  Why exactly did we needed a clinical study to tell us this?  Somehow, I think that weasel words would have been cheaper…

March 21, 2008

New Cereal in Old Boxes

Filed under: Design, Food — Tags: , , , , — Brian Lutz @ 2:23 am

If nothing happens to grab your attention while you’re passing through the cereal aisle at your grocery store, it’s certainly not from lack of trying.  It seems these days that cereal boxes keep getting more and more ostentatious in an effort to grab the attention of easily distracted youngsters.  On the other hand, the contents of the cereal boxes themselves haven’t really changed a whole lot over the years, and a lot of the brands of cereal we have on the shelf today happen to be the very same brands that our parents ate while they watched Saturday morning cartoons back when they were kids.  Perhaps in an effort to stand out by bringing back memories of a simpler time, General Mills has recently started putting a number of their most popular cereals in throwback packaging.

These two packages go quite a ways back.  Based on looking at vintage cereal box pictures found on this site, I’d say that the design on the Wheaties box is probably somewhere in the late Forties to early Fifties, hearkening back to a day before they started using pictures of real athletes.  I wasn’t able to find an example of the design on which the Kix box was based, but if I had to guess, I’d say they used a very early design, perhaps  even from the Thirties or Forties.  (Kix was first introduced in 1937, and was in fact the first example of the now popular “puffed” style of cereal to be introduced.)

The designs on the Lucky Charms and Golden Grahams boxes are somewhat newer,  Golden Grahams cereal was first introduced in the Seventies, and the very Seventies looking design on the package (which survived largely unchanged well into the Eighties) reflects this.  In fact, the rather more generic packaging used for Golden Grahams these days kind of tends to get lost on the shelf As for the Lucky Charms box, that particular design seems to have been used through the late Seventies and early Eighties (Here is a picture that shows this box design with an offer for Star Wars stickers, and another one on the site shows a similar design with Battlestar Galactica stickers as well.)  Interestingly enough, there are some subtle changes to the Lucky Charms box.  The picture of the cereal on the box reflects the current lineup of  marshmallows, which is far more diverse than the three or four shapes that the cereal had back when this box design was current.   The text has also changed somewhat, so that the modern box reads “frosted toasted oat cereal with marshmallow bits”, where the old box reads “Sugar frosted oat cereal with marshmallow bits” (although the word “sugar” was later eliminated on the older boxes as well.)   Currently there is also a vintage box in this style for Honey Nut Cheerios as well, but I don’t have a picture of that one right now, and to be honest, the packaging of that particular cereal has changed surprisingly little between now and then.

As you’ve probably noted from the pictures, General Mills is currently offering a set of T-shirts at this website in conjunction with these throwback boxes.  Unlike the T-shirts offered in some promotions, the ones from this one actually look like the type of thing that a sane person might actually wear out in public.  I suspect you could probably even find similar tees in one of those goth-infested pop culture outlets at your neighborhood mall, at a significantly higher price than the $5 (plus shipping and handling, of course) that these ones are being sold for.  In fact, there’s just one tiny little problem with the T-shirt offers…

 

It seems that when someone copied the front of the box onto the design used for the back of the box, they didn’t bother to remove the T-shirt offer.  I guess I can see their point though.  Looking through the cereal box archive linked above, it is  surprisingly difficult to find a cereal box of any vintage that doesn’t have one special offer or another plastered on the front of the box.  I guess this means they’re just keeping with tradition, right? 

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