Duck Soup: Limited Edition Potato Chips?
Last summer I ate a few potato chips. More than a few. Several. Actually, more than I care to admit. A little cartoon bird on one of those bags told me it was a "limited edition." How very curious, I thought. A limited edition potato chip bag.It's funny how advertising plays with language. Here we have a concept lifted from the art world where a lithographer might print one hundred copies of a creation before the original is erased forever. The purchaser of a lithograph can be sure there will never be more duplicate prints available. That limit adds value to the artwork, particularly if the artist is a master.I wondered what the limit was on potato chip bags. Because the bag design was part of a movie promotion scheme, I felt sure the chip factory wouldn't keep using them after the movie run ended.Did they order a particular number of bags to start with, and leave it at that? Business people don't usually work that way. If the promo drew flocks of folks to the groceries to buy limited edition chip bags, I suspect the printing plant would make more. The ads say that. "We'll make more."Is a limited edition bag more valuable? The chip maker surely had to pay royalties to the cartoon company for the right to use famous cartoon characters on their product. But it seems doubtful the chip maker would cut profits in order to promote a film. Does that mean they paid some potato farmer less for spuds, even defective spuds, to make up the difference? Or perhaps use cheaper oil for frying? Are the chips in a limited edition bag inferior?I phoned the manufacturer's 800 number. The representative couldn't give me the slightest hint about the number of limited edition bags in circulation. Nor was her supervisor better informed. Factories all over the country used the bags. There is no way to guess how many were made. They did assure me the chips hadn't changed, only the bag.Finally the rep said, "I think it's called limited because they aren't always going to use them. They're going back to the original bag after a while."Chip merchants aren't alone. Fast food places have "collector's edition" plastic cups. Beer and soft drink companies issue commemorative aluminum cans. We bump into such hyperbole all the time in our commercial dealings with the world.What I find most disquieting in all this is the implication that advertisers know it will work. Selling the package instead of the contents is the norm. And what's true of potato chips is true of politicians. I read recently that 90% of U.S. elections go to the candidate who spends the most money on ads. And while a lot of people running for office claim they'll be a "limited edition," the Congress and the Supreme Court have told us that as long as we buy them, they'll take more.As usual, we're left holding an empty bag.