July 12, 2005

On The Debilitating Effects Of [Diet Coke] Welfare

So maybe you've noticed the "1 in 12 wins!" promotion campaign on the lids of most Coke products the last few months. As a pathetically, alarmingly addicted, inveterate loyal Diet Coke drinker, I know I have. The lids are on 20-oz and even 2-liter bottles, but the prize is a free 1-liter bottle of product. While I have to admire the company's insidiously effective strategy of getting America to change its idea of a serving of Coke [over the years, we've gone from 8-oz glass bottles, to 12-oz cans, to 20-oz bottles, and now to 1-liter, or, in NYC's case, 1.5-l bottles which are, that word again, insidiously easy enough to drink out of], I have to say, from where I sit, the campaign is an utter and complete failure; it has turned my Diet Coke buying and consuming experience into an annoying, shame-filled, welfare hell.

It's not that I never win; that's not a problem. It's that many retailers refuse to redeem the little caps, even if they sell product with the contest-bearing lids, and even if they carry 1-liter bottles (which turn out to be in far fewer distribution channels/retailer types than you might expect, especially in DC and NYC where we live). And it's not like I can tell you which kind of retailers reject them; I've had it happen at grocery stores, 7-11's, gas stations, Korean delis, newsstands, bodegas, on the NJ Turnpike (where I've won at one rest stop and was unable to redeem at another), chain drug stores--there's no way to know if you'll fail without trying.

It doesn't take many failed attempts to redeem a winning cap, which have involved confounding--and even angry--explanations from store managers about how Coke won't credit them for the freebies, or how they don't use a Coke distributor so they're not participating in the campaign, etc.--to make one weary of the fight for one's right to free soda. Except that it's not a right, it's an entitlement. Welfare.

You're reduced, essentially, to begging for a dollar (or $1.50-1.75, usually) from a diffident cashier or a put-upon manager, when it's obvious that you can afford it, you cheap bastard, trying to get something for nothing. Meanwhile, the line builds up behind you, and now you're the jerk who's holding everyone up for what, a dollar? I'll give you a dollar to get out of the way and let me buy these Pampers, ya junkie!

But it's not like I sought this out; I didn't scratch off anything, or Supersize to get two more chances to win. Coke put me in this situation where I feel like a wronged, government-cheese-stealing welfare queen, whose resentment builds with the fresh taunt of each unredeemable winning lid I find; they're lining up on the kitchen window sill pissing me off at this very moment. Now every time I lose, I feel a small sense of relief, one less pang I'll have to endure.

Before I decided to rant--I'll show them, Don't they realize I have a blog??--here, I actually called the Coca Cola company for redress, sure, but also to report that their marketing campaign was having the exact opposite effect on at least one loyal, concerned customer. A very sympathetic representative comforted me, asked who these offending retailers were (um, all of them? I got so ashamed, I stopped trying. choke back the pent-up tears.), and asked would I be willing to speak with someone from the marketing and promotion department within 7-10 days? Sure, of course, I just want what's best for you, Diet Coke.

She took down my number, and then she offered to mail me eight coupons for free 2-liter bottles. No offensee, I said, but the one time I called to get my money back from a Coke machine, I got one of your corporate coupons, and I couldn't find a retailer who'd take it.

[update: my wife reminds me of a recent development, where I was able to use a bottlecap at the on-campus "grocery" store at Georgetown, where we'd taken the kid to the pediatrician. I figured it was because these college students were Coke's most important customers (and also their cheapest and most demanding, and with the most unalloyed sense of entitlement and self-absorption)... Oh, Diet Coke, you know me so well. I could never stay mad at you...]

Since 2001 here at greg.org, I've been blogging about the creative process—my own and those of people who interest me. That mostly involves filmmaking, art, writing, research, and the making thereof.

Many thanks to the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Program for supporting greg.org that time.

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first published: July 12, 2005.

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