CDs in Cracker Jack boxes? Maybe soon
by Alan Zisman
(c) 2001. First
published in Vancouver Computes,
Remember Cracker Jacks? The classic caramel corn with
the prize in every
box. And what a prize it was! A blue plastic one-size-fits-all ring
a butterfly on top. Or something equally valuable. "Where'd you get
In a Cracker Jacks box?" was a standard put-down in my elementary
For contrast, think back to the early days of CD, when
all the audio
CDs in the world were produced in one of only two CD-pressing plants.
more recently, when recordable CDs cost $25 each, and the drives to
them cost several thousand dollars. Definitely not something you would
find in a Cracker Jacks box.
How things have changed! Now, audio and data CDs are
cheaper to produce
than the plastic jewel cases they're packaged in, and magazines with
CDs are commonplace.
Free CDs have taken a giant leap beyond computer
magazines. This winter,
Gap Kids gave a game CD, Snow Day to visitors to its stores.
hype? Well of course. The store's name is featured on the CD jacket,
the program icon is a Gap logo. But much to my surprise, it's actually
not a bad little game for the 7-12 year old set.
Not surprisingly, all the kids in the game are wearing
but otherwise there's no overt corporate presence. Except? only half of
the activities are playable right away. Click on one of the others and
you're urged to check your computer regularly. More or less once a
a notice pops up a boot up saying it's time to visit your local Gap
store to get the code to play another game. Fiendishly clever! (To save
on gas, here are two of the codes: For Skate Race, enter 894367; for
Frenzy it's 426985-- as I write this, the final code hasn't been
yet). Snow Day has proven to be quite popular with the kids at the
school where I teach, and is one of the few games that is popular with
both girls and boys. And it's doubly-bilingual: both English/French and
At about the same time, bringing the classic Cracker
Jack strategy into
the digital age, General Mills has been including Hasbro computer game
CDs in some of its breakfast cereal boxes. Not just demos, full
of six different games are featured. Unlike Gap's Snow Day, these games
were not specially produced for this promotion, but were sold in stores
Smaller, specially marked boxes of Cheerios (and other
GM brands) include
printed tokens. Five tokens and $5, along with a mail-in form get you
complete set of 6 CDs. But the larger-sized boxes take the Cracker Jack
model one step better?a game CD is inside the box, visible through a
window, so you can select which game you get.
I've been kid-testing these games at my elementary
school, as well.
(Students can play games before and after school). Tonka Search and
which is rated for ages 4 and up, works best with the littlest ones.
and Monopoly Junior are favorites with a broad range of kids. Monopoly
Junior, in particular, is a real winner?a simplified version of the
that it seems like every child is familiar with, but adding fun
that couldn't happen in a 'real world' board game.
The other games were less popular, however. Yahtzee
and Boggle are faithful
adaptations of the original board games, and while those were
of my family on summer nights at the cabin, none of the school kids saw
the point. And the murder-mystery game, Clue, rated for ages 10 and up,
seemed too complex. None of the kids who tried it was able to get much
past choosing a character. Perhaps these games would work better with a
child playing together with a parent or older sibling who is already
with the rules of the game.
I was pleased to see that there was no advertising for
in these games. The CD disks and envelopes had modest GM and Hasbro
but that was it?not even a mention of the cereal company in the game
There are a couple of things I find interesting about
this whole mini-phenomenon.
The first is that CDs are now cheap enough that they can be offered as
free prizes in cereal boxes.
The second is that enough people have home computers
that these companies
believe a give-away aimed at computer owners will increase sales.
computer owners are not a nerdy niche any longer. In fact, families
school-age children are more likely than any other demographic group to
own a home computer.
Finally, there's not much of a Mac presence
here. Gap SnowDay
and GM's Tonka Search and Rescue includes both Mac and PC versions on
disk, but the other GM giveaways are PC only. For the most part, it
that Apple just doesn't matter.
I suppose it's only a matter of time until we get CDs
as Cracker Jack
Note: (January 2007)
Readers might be interested in Mike Melanson's webpage The Gap Game