I realized that my wife truly loved me when she threatened to kill me. We were still living in sin at the time, we were poor, and I had a pretty sharp eye for a bargain. As we sailed down the grocery aisle one day, my wife said, “Look, root beer.” She said it like she might have said, “Look, white whale,” if she’d had one leg and looked like Gregory Peck. She hove to and cut a small bottle out of the pod.
I objected right away. It’s not that I didn’t want her to have root beer, but I didn’t understand why she was buying a small bottle. Root beer in the small bottle cost 4 cents per ounce. Root beer in the giant bottle cost 3.8 cents per ounce. No economic logic could justify it. She might overpay by as much as twelve or even thirteen cents. I presented my position in detail and with determination. At last she grabbed the giant bottle and said, “Fine. But when this root beer goes flat I’m going to pour the whole bottle down your throat,” which would have soon resulted in my death from acute root beer poisoning. At that moment I knew it was real love and that she was the girl for me.
I said all that in order to say this: I’m still a pretty sharp shopper, but my wife taught me there’s more to shopping than price. So when I saw the words “50% OFF” this morning, I did not snatch the item like a snot-stained toddler full of Froot Loops and jam. Instead, I eased my 14 liters of Diet Coke out of the aisle and pondered this opportunity. These were candy bars. Fate was offering me half-price candy. Where I come from, turning down half-price candy is like poking your finger in God’s eye. Life will not offer you anything better that day, unless you stumble across Liv Tyler in a chocolate Ferrari full of cocaine.
As I reached for the candy bar, trembling when I realized it was a giant-sized, two-piece bar, I scanned the wrapper for any promises of extra nuts or a prize inside. What I saw astounded me more than if this candy had been Bluetooth enabled. The wrapper said that this candy contained “4 GRAMS of PROTEIN”. “PER PIECE”. That’s 8 GRAMS of PROTEIN. TOTAL.
I am not kidding.
That was a lot to comprehend. I tried to imagine why someone thought a “high protein” label would make people desire this candy even more. It’s already candy. If candy had directions for use, those directions would say, “Remove wrapper. Place candy in rusty spoon and melt over open flame. Inject candy directly into vein. Repeat until dead.” No person on Earth can be convinced that this is healthy candy just because it has 4 grams of protein in it. What brains came up with this sales tactic?
Then I realized that I can answer this one. During my patchwork of vocational adventures, I have sat in meeting rooms where people thought up ways to sell stuff. Based on my experiences, I imagine that the conversation at the candy company went about like this:
BOSS: Only half the people in the country buy our candy. How do we make the other half buy it too? Let’s brainstorm here, people.
LACKEY: We could make it taste better.
BOSS: I said brainstorm, not throw out crazy ideas! Go get me some coffee.
TOADY: Hey, we put ‘em on sale! Instead of ninety cents each, we sell ‘em three for $2.80.
LICKSPITTLE: That’s horrible. People would be paying more for three than for one at a time.
TOADY: That’s the great part. Most of the morons can’t divide by three.
BOSS: It’s not a bad idea, but we need to reach the cheap bastards who don’t already buy our candy.
LACKEY: Here’s your coffee. Maybe we can just toss candy bars over everyone’s back fence and then charge them for the candy on their utility bill. Nobody ever looks at their utility bill. They just pay it.
LICKSPITTLE: That will never work. It’s fraud. We’ll all get put in jail.
BOSS: Maybe… put it on the parking lot and I’ll run it by legal. What else?
TOADY: We slap a “Made in the USA” tag on every wrapper! A red, white and blue one!
LACKEY: Do we make them in the USA?
[EVERYONE LOOKS AT EVERYONE ELSE]
LICKSPITTLE: The wrapper’s made in China.
LACKEY: So what do these cheap bastards who don’t buy our candy have in common?
BOSS: They’re not fat.
TOADY: Perfect! We use the time-tested marketing strategy—fear! They’re afraid of getting fat and dying, so they’re always on diets, right?
LICKSPITTLE: Um… I guess. I’m always on a diet.
BOSS: I see where you’re going with this. What’s the popular diet right now?
[EVERYONE LOOKS AT LICKSPITTLE]
LICKSPITTLE: Low carb/high protein. If my wife puts another chicken breast on the table, I’m going to shoot myself.
TOADY: Okay! We just plaster the grams of protein on the wrapper in big-ass text like it’s a huge amount of protein, and people on diets will buy like crazy.
BOSS: I see. Yes, they want candy anyway, so this is just giving them permission.
LICKSPITTLE: Wait. How many grams of protein are in our candy?
TOADY: Who gives a shit? The fewer the grams, the bigger we’ll make the letters!
BOSS: Perfect! That settles it. Great job, everyone. Pass me a donut.
I’m sure that’s how it happened. As a point of interest, if you were on a high protein diet and got all your protein by eating these candy bars, you’d consume 100,000 calories a day. Okay, that may be an exaggeration, but it would be enough calories to force you into your fat jeans by the end of the week.
That sales technique did not snare me, I’m proud to say. I owe that to my lovely wife, who expanded my consumer consciousness beyond questions of mere price. I can see past claims about protein, new and improved flavors, and contests I couldn’t win if I had the powers of a Greek god. I stand immune.
Of course I bought the candy. It’s half-price candy. I’m not stupid.