This week, the original junk food Cracker Jack introduces a new look to its packaging, and – brace yourself – no more “prize inside”. The tiny toys synonymous with the brand since 1912 have been replaced with QR code stickers, which connect to games on your phone when scanned. Farewell to those temporary tattoos, finger-sized comic books, and decoder rings; – another slice of Americana is gone. Check out Facebook’s Cracker Jack page if you want a sampling of the overwhelmingly negative reaction to the news.
Cracker Jack’s announcement shamelessly reduces the “toy surprise inside” to mere click bait. Akin to so many Facebook posts, the allure of click bait is to discover the rest of the story. In the process you get a healthy dose of advertising. Click bait never gets my attention, nor will Cracker Jack’s QR codes. The thrill of the prize is gone.
Cracker Jack has a special place in my heart. My great uncle became synonymous with the treat when he showed up at family gatherings with enough boxes for his dozen grandnephews and nieces. More significantly, I hid my wife’s engagement ring inside the prize packet of a box of Cracker Jack just before my proposal. She used to be a Crunch ‘n Munch fan until she opened that particular “toy”.
Cracker Jack is another link to the past that has suffered never-go-back changes. The boxes are smaller now (in fact, the latest packaging is not even a box), and the ratio of peanuts to popcorn has increased. It’s the typical product manipulation that has you thinking you’re consuming the same thing you did ten years ago. Like ice cream, where brands are now sold in smaller containers designed to look like the standard half-gallon. Or fast-food “quarter-pound” burgers that are no longer as big, yet still qualify by definition. Perhaps the most obvious example: Oreos have less filling and thinner cookies than the originals. Ironically, today’s “Double-Stuff” are probably more like the “singles” from a generation ago.
Changes like Cracker Jack hit me hard, not only because I’m paying more for less but because the tampering seems like an injustice. Why not keep the original and charge more? I’d pay. And I’m not alone. Wikipedia claims the New York Yankees tried to replace Cracker Jack with Crunch ‘n Munch at home games ten years ago, but the public outcry forced them to switch back within a matter of days. Don’t mess with Jack!
Speaking of baseball, Cracker Jack is immortalized in the lyrics of “Take Me Out To the Ballgame”, sung in the middle of seventh inning stretches. I wonder if today’s generation knows what they’re singing about with “…buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack”? Even if they do they’re singing about a different product now, including the updated images of mascots Sailor Jack and his dog Bingo. No doubt Cracker Jack’s founder had that in mind before he passed away in 1937. The original Sailor Jack is carved on his tombstone. Now there’s something they can never change.