Monday, March 8, 2010
I'm still waiting for the "Prize Patrol"
By Alan Caruba
If anyone bothered to read the “Sweepstakes Facts” that Publishers Clearing House provides with its endless mailings, they would discover that the odds of winning “up to $10,000,000" in any of their constantly on-going “giveaway” programs is “1 in 1,750,000,000.” I am not making this up, nor the other prize odds that range from 1 in 170,000,000 down to a mere 1 in 92,000. You probably have better odds of being hit by lightning.
A year ago I was watching one of their television commercials where their prize patrol arrives with a huge check, flowers, and balloons and the lucky winners gasp in delight. A journalist by training and hoping to pick up a few million, I decided to participate. That was a big mistake.
PCH may be the most devilishly clever way to sell stuff most people would only buy if they thought it would help win—-they tell you it will not—-but what followed over the past year was a deluge of emails and letters stuffed with fliers for stuff with stickers on the envelopes saying things like “Attention: Instant Cash prize Will Definitely Be Awarded from This Bulletin Only.”
The following month I received an envelope with a sticker that said, “48-Hour Alert: You are hereby notified that you are the owner of a valid SuperPrize Number making you fully eligible to win $1,000,000.00 INSTANT WIN SuperPrize as soon as you respond to this Note”, adding, “Be advised that failure to respond by the deadline is cause for immediate forfeiture of your number and may result in serious loss of money.”
The key to the PCH pitch is the urgency with which one must respond to either the emails or the envelopes. Each individual giveaway has a time limit so one is compelled to respond to each one.
Let it be said that PCH is a totally legitimate enterprise. They provide their rules and, as noted, the odds against winning anything. They even include “Notice of Unclaimed Cash Prizes” from $500 to $75.00 telling the recipient “Hurry! These cash prizes must be awarded!”
Somebody does win a PCH payout or prize. Mostly, however, not you.
You don’t even have to purchase a “Pouring Funnel Pitcher”, “Double-Sided Metallic Cleaning Pads”, the “Perfect Brownie Baking Pan”, “Mighty Putty”, “Reusable Shopping Bags”, or any of the other items that run the gamut from useful to self-indulgent. The prices are low until you read that they involve multiple payments, usually about four. I bought a knife and scissor sharpener.
Having satisfied my curiosity about Publishers Clearing House—-it began as a scheme to sell magazine subscriptions and it still does—-and the way it must surely get hundreds of thousands of gullible and needy people to keep buying and buying and buying items that, as often as not, appear to be overpriced or easily available for less at your local supermarket or Wal-Mart, I am now going to extricate myself from their clutches.
This is the kind of suffering that a journalist will go through to “get the story” and the story is that PCH is malevolently brilliant in the way it unceasingly bombards those hoping that they will beat the 1 in 1,750,000,000 odds.
The reasoning is the same as buying a lottery ticket, hoping you will have the winning numbers for the Powerball or Mega-millions drawing. Yes, I buy one every week as part of retirement plan.
We live in hope.
We don’t have to live with constant hectoring to buy over-priced stuff we don’t want.
© Alan Caruba, 2010