all of the selves we Have ever been
I make a note to check my rewards program points.
Except for gasoline rewards, I often forget about points or cash back rewards accumulating on my various accounts. I suspect the banks and retailers count on our forgetting so that they can keep the programs rolling at a minimum of expense while maximizing the promises that bring in new customers.
These digital rewards programs can be personally lucrative, but I prefer the old days when you got something tangible in your hand or found a surprise inside your purchase.
A popular rewards program in our house was trading stamps. We collected S&H Green Stamps and Top Value Stamps. S&H Green Stamps were the, uh, green ones. The Top Value Stamps were yellow. Though we collected both brands in our household, the Green Stamps seemed more popular in our neck of the woods. We mainly earned our stamps at the grocery store and gas station, but there were other retailers who participated in these programs.
The small stamps came in different denominations. The strings of stamps were perforated so the collector could easily and neatly tear the stamps apart to fill the small squares on the pages of the collector’s book. The paper stamps had an adhesive on the back that was activated by licking the stamps or wetting them with a sponge.
Sticking the stamps to the pages of the collector’s book was the point at which children were invited to participate in the program. We licked until our tongues were green, and we were happy to do so. The books contained 24 pages and required 1200 points worth of stamps to fill. The collector could then go to a redemption center or order from a catalog. It was said that S&H Green Stamps produced more stamps than the U.S. Postal Service and had the biggest catalog of all catalogs. It was pretty exciting stuff. We were part of something BIG.
We fantasized about redeeming those books of stamps, and we enjoyed visits to the redemption center to scout out the merchandise. We tried to imagine saving enough stamps to get a new gas range or even a boat! It was more likely that we would end up with a new lamp for the living room, but we children felt like we had contributed to the acquisition and enjoyed the excitement of shared effort and anticipation. We also shared our stamps with friends and neighbors to help them reach the bigger goals. Maybe one of them would get the boat and we could claim a role in their success!
Back then, smaller rewards sometimes came with a product. Breeze powered laundry detergent gave away bath towels inside the box, and Duz detergent, not to be outdone, gave free drinking glasses.
Banks got in on the act as well. When I first graduated from high school, my bank gave dishes for each savings deposit over $25.00. With the help of my co-workers and friends, I collected an entire service for 12 of Enoch Wedgewood china dinnerware. I’ve eaten from those plates, bowls and saucers at every meal for more than 40 years.
Kids had their own rewards programs. Bazooka bubble gum came with a tiny comic inside the wrapper. The wrappers could be saved and sent into the manufacturer for fun prizes like a baseball mitt. Boxed cold cereals often came with prizes as well. Prizes might include a chintzy row of stickers or a rubbery wall walker. Better prizes included muscle cars or actual small records. Cracker Jacks contained prizes too. Most of them were rather lame, but then again, the box was pretty small. You might find a whistle or a small paper game. I was always eager for a decoder ring.
There were other programs that involved combining saved box tops with a small amount of cash. With these programs you could purchase great things of good quality like a set of silver spoons. I still have a beautiful cut glass condiment serving dish with a sterling silver lid and spoon as well as a sturdy stainless steel and wood set of grilling tools, and a recipe box complete with recipes.
Print magazines often ran ads for inexpensive mail order items. These were not actually “rewards” unless you counted the fact that you would not have known about the deal without first purchasing the magazine. It is hard to believe that people would just tear out the corner of the page with the order information, place some actual cash into an envelope, and drop the order into the mail. Most of the time, the product arrived at your door in a few weeks.
Unbeknownst to parents, this route led to some shenanigans by children—no different than the internet age. An older friend who is now a retired police officer once made an inexpensive but significant purchase from an ad in the back of a gun magazine. When he was nine years old and his good buddy was twelve, the two saw an ad for a bazooka. For a few dollars the bazooka could be theirs. The ad stipulated that the purchaser had to be twenty-one years of age. The two boys figured that together, they had twenty-one years between them, and so they filled out the order form, slipped their cash into an envelope and waited. The bazooka actually arrived. Now we are not talking about a stash of bubble gum here. We are talking about an actual portable, recoilless, anti-tank rocket launcher weapon!
The boys loaded it with a baseball. The bazooka accidentally went off in the family living room shattering the front window and blasting through the side of a passing city bus. Miraculously and thankfully, no one was injured, but in a few minutes the police were knocking on the door. The boys tried to pretend no one was home. Didn’t work.
Also miraculously and thankfully, it was a time when kids who did stupid things without ill intent received a talking to and maybe a trip behind the shed. They did not get life in adult prison or the electric chair. Like I said, this man became a career police officer. I guess he learned his lesson and knew which side of the bazooka and the law he wanted to be on.
While the rewards and the shopping experiences share many features in the 3D and the digital worlds, I still prefer the tactile, three-dimensional experience. I like the visual, hands-on effort, and the mounting anticipation. I liked being included in a shared family experience. The points or rewards were never out of sight. We were constantly adding green stamps to our little books and studying the product packaging and magazine ads. Our favorite soaps and cereals became the ones with prizes inside. Shop to win. Eat to win. Wash to win. The point was you were always a winner and constantly surprised.