There is a new surprise at the bottom of a Cracker Jack box -- no more physical prizes. The announcement that Cracker Jack will replace the riddles, stickers and trinkets with a QR code that can be scanned for interactive baseball-themed experiences has resulted in a backlash from fans who grew up with the caramel-coated popcorn and peanut treat.
On the surface, Cracker Jack is another childhood icon vanquished by the digital age, but while the romance of the past may be appealing, it can also inhibit a brand's ability to grow and evolve. Traditionalists argue that QR codes destroy the instant gratification of uncovering physical prizes, decrease the product's value, and erode the customer relationship, but the reality is that this bold move by Cracker Jack can positively impact consumer engagement and successfully bring the 120-year-old brand into the digital age.
While many adults fondly remember the excitement around finding physical prizes in boxes of Cracker Jack, that's where nostalgia blinds us from the actual consumer experience. While puzzles, whistles and stickers were the prizes of yesterday, Frito-Lay, Cracker Jack's parent brand, has made significant changes to offerings in the last few years. Booklets of tattoos have been reduced to a single tattoo and plastic puzzles transitioned to slips of paper clad with riddles, underwhelming brand enthusiasts. Before the age of Xbox and tablets, the bar for compelling children's entertainment was much lower; even if yesteryear's prizes still existed, they don't hold a candle to the thousands of free downloadable games flooding app stores today.
For instant gratification to occur, prizes must be as exciting as the quest to find them. Though scanning a QR code adds a step to the consumer journey, it provides customers with the opportunity to partake in four mobile games and experiences -- including the opportunity to superimpose their picture on a baseball card shareable through social media. This diversity in experiences significantly increases the likelihood of instant gratification.
Moreover, the experiences provided directly dial back to Cracker Jack's stadium roots while spurring memorable brand interaction. Cracker Jack's new mobile experiences will allow players to shimmy around a simulated baseball field's jumbotron and share personalized baseball cards across Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Beyond simply entertaining consumers, sharing across social media is the new experience economy, providing brands with an increased reach and significant value.
Embracing the digital age
Cracker Jack isn't the first food brand to adopt a tech-savvy approach. Earlier this year, McDonald's restaurants in Sweden made headlines for offering special boxes that can be folded into virtual reality viewers to encourage children to explore VR games while simultaneously modernizing the Happy Meal. And last Halloween, General Mills digitalized its iconic Franken Berry, Count Chocula and Boo Berry monsters with the help of augmented reality application Blippar. By simply pointing their phones at the backs of marked boxes, consumers can watch the monsters deliver special messages and access vintage packages and commercials. These strategies add a new splash of excitement into tired engagement strategies, while ensuring veteran brands are relevant to younger, digital audiences.
Reduced cost of goods
Initially, a QR code doesn't seem to provide the same excitement as a physical prize, but Cracker Jack is ultimately increasing consumer value through digital rewards. Nostalgia aside, only a small percentage of people truly care about the physical prize tucked into their bag, resulting in a great deal of wasted cost. From an operations perspective, placing a physical prize in each box costs more than inserting a QR code. By reducing costs and focusing the ROI on consumers who truly value it, Cracker Jack can deliver greater prize value for each person who redeems their prize, instead of providing mediocre prize value to anyone who purchases a bag.
Through Cracker Jack's new mobile app experiences, there's newfound opportunity for the brand to engage beyond the point of purchase. When a consumer opts into a digital prize, Cracker Jack is given the ability to create shopper profiles for customers and get a clearer understanding of who is not only buying its product, but redeeming offers, providing a wealth of data. Based on these redemptions, Cracker Jack can gauge customer preference, discovering which digital experiences are the most popular. These insights can be used to both enhance future prizes to customers' liking and inform Cracker Jack's other digital efforts. Mobile apps also open a direct channel of communication with consumers, where they can use garnered insights to speak to fans on a more personal level.
At first glance, the move to QR codes might not seem like Cracker Jack is creating a loyalty program, but digital QR prizing is no different than a unique code under a cap. Both tactics drive the consumer online with each purchase and create direct, ongoing consumer-brand relationships and, in turn, more memorable experiences.