< Crackerjack


Friday, June 21, 2002


August 4, 2001

BROOKE GLADSTONE: There's one consumer item that has no need for an artificially baseball-centric ad campaign. It's all because of a song written in 1908 by a lyricist who had never seen a baseball game! But when Jack Norworth saw a subway ad for baseball at the Polo Grounds, the lyrics for Take Me Out to the Ball Game hit him with the speed of a Christy Mathewson fast ball. And that reference to Cracker Jack translated to free advertising the likes of which America has not seen before or since. How much is that worth to parent company Frito Lay? Our producer at large Mike Pesca found out. [BASEBALL GAME AMBIENT SOUND]
MIKE PESCA: The Yankees beat the Texas Rangers 9 to 7 at the stadium Wednesday night. The game featured two innings of stellar relief from Mariano Rivera, Tino Martinez's 24th home run of the season, [TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME UP & UNDER] and 41,714 people simultaneously standing and invoking a brand name consumer non-durable.
MIKE PESCA: On Wednesday night, as on most nights throughout the summer, thousands of Americans stood up and sang the word "Cracker Jack." Last year over 72 million customers saw a major league baseball game, and at a certain juncture in each they were all invited to participate in the most entrenched product placement in American history. [BASEBALL GAME AMBIENT SOUND]
MAN: [SHOUTING] Cracker Jacks! Cracker Jacks!
MIKE PESCA: It is technically "Cracker Jack," not "Cracker Jacks" on the box and in the song lyrics. Pluralized or not Cracker Jack has achieved a singular place in the American psyche if not consciousness.
MIKE PESCA: So-- what do you eat when you come to the ball park?
MAN: Of course you've got to have a hot dog and you always eat Cracker Jacks.
MIKE PESCA: And why?
MAN: Well because they're just the best.
WOMAN: It was imbedded in your mind that you had to eat hot dogs and Cracker Jacks at a baseball game.
WOMAN: Because, they told you to do it! So you just do it.
MAN: It just fits.
MIKE PESCA: I've got to keep saying why until you give me the right answer.
WOMAN: [...?...]. [...?...] right answer. [BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
WOMAN: Okay.
WOMAN: Say the answer.
WOMAN: Say the answer.
MIKE PESCA: Sing Take Me Out to the Ball Game.
WOMAN: [SINGING] TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME, [LAUGHTER] wait -- we'll have -- Cracker Jacks! Yeah-- AT THE OLD BALL GAME.
WOMAN: Mm-hm.
MIKE PESCA: Peter Bryniczka and Zenetta Stewart knew that Cracker Jack and basketball went together because the song lyric plants the association in the mind. But that doesn't always lead to direct action. A stadium vendor told me that sales spike in the second and are almost dead by the 7th inning stretch. This was borne out by a visit to the concession stand right after Take Me Out to the Ball Game.
MIKE PESCA: I see right now you're folding. Could you tell me what kind of box you're folding up?
WOMAN: Cracker Jack box.
MIKE PESCA: And is that because you're, you're sold out?
MIKE PESCA: Due to huge demand?
MIKE PESCA: Do you often sell out of Crack Jacks?
MIKE PESCA: Do you often sell out of anything?
MIKE PESCA: What do you sell out of?
WOMAN: Peanuts.
MIKE PESCA: So how much is this mention worth to Cracker Jack? Let's say Cracker Jack wasn't in the song. Let's say instead that there was a Cracker Jack ad on the outfield wall of every major league park. According to Scott McDuffie, vice president of Out of Home Media for Zenith Media, those types of ads cost a quarter of a million dollars each. It's cheaper to advertise in the minors, but there are 160 minor league stadiums. Conservatively, the price to replace the lyric with outdoor advertising in professional baseball stadiums would be 25 million dollars. Cracker Jack's total sales last year were around 40 million. Does this mean that without baseball there would be no Cracker Jack, or at least no Cracker Jack as we know it?
PAUL LUKAS: They may have had some difficulties trying to, to make Cracker Jack contemporary.
MIKE PESCA: Paul Lukas is the author of Inconspicuous Consumption: An Obsessive Look at the Stuff we Take for Granted. He recalls Cracker Jack's attempts to tweak its brand image through television commercials in the '70s.
PAUL LUKAS: I think the lyric of the jingle went something like: WHAT DO YOU CALL A KID WHO CAN DIVE LIKE THAT? YOU CALL THAT KID A CRACKER JACK.
PAUL LUKAS: You remember! Yeah! And, and then, and then the tag line at the end was: WHEN YOU'RE REALLY GOOD, THEY CALL YOU CRACKER JACK. And in fact -- no they don't.
MIKE PESCA: They stopped calling you Cracker Jack during the Hoover Administration. And that's one of the reasons why Cracker Jack will remain not only caramel-covered but sepia-tinged. Paul Lukas.
PAUL LUKAS: With snacks which are, are sort of in the realm of pop culture when it, when it comes to consumer products, the brand image is at least as important as the product itself, and, and--the image and the look they've gone for which this particular brand is one of nostalgia and, and I do think that a lot of it has to do with the song! It's, it's sort of -- in some ways, it's great free advertising, but it may also be a bit of a straightjacket.
MIKE PESCA: But Cracker Jack does have one other thing going for it. Yankee Stadium groundskeeper Jevon Treherne has cleaned up hundreds of pounds of Cracker Jack. [BASEBALL GAME AMBIENT SOUND]
MIKE PESCA: How long have you been working at Yankee Stadium?
MAN: Ten years.
MIKE PESCA: Ten years. Ten years -- how many Cracker Jack prizes have you found on the ground?
MAN: None. They don't - never throw away the prize. They always keep the prizes.
MIKE PESCA: If Hallmark had gotten in on the ground floor of the writing of Happy Birthday, or if Francis Scott Key could have somehow known to mention, say, Woolite, we'd have another contender for Most Effective Product Placement Ever. But if Francis Scott Key had been that smart, we'd call him Cracker Jack. [MUSIC UP & UNDER] For On the Media, I'm Mike Pesca. 58:00
BOB GARFIELD: That's it for this week's show. On the Media was produced by Janeen Price, Katya Rogers and Melissa Sanford; engineered by Irene Trudel and Scott Strickland and edited-- by Brooke. We had help from Dylan Keefe, Sean Landis and Kathleen Horan.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Mike Pesca is our producer at large; Arun Rath our senior producer and Dean Cappello our executive producer. Bassist/composer Ben Allison wrote our theme. [THEME MUSIC UP & UNDER] This is On the Media from National Public Radio. I'm Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: And just to reiterate -- I'm Bob Garfield.