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Death To Box Tops: Creative or Cover-up?

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  critique environment tech

7 min read | 1830 words | 436 views | 0 comments

In the past 25 years, General Mills' Box Tops For Education program has raised nearly $1 billion for schools. For better or worse, that era has come to an end. General Mills planned to phase Box Tops out completely by December 2019, so if you haven't seen any on boxes for quite a while, now you know why.

Of course, General Mills is pretending that it hasn't actually killed off Box Tops… they're just "going digital", but they're no longer Box Tops, theoretically or practically.

For over 20 years, Box Tops for Education has given families an easy way to earn cash for their school, with products they already buy.
Now you can simply scan your store receipt with the Box Tops mobile app to identify participating products and instantly add cash to your school's earnings online. — Box Tops

Nice, try, General Mills. Just because you added the word "simply", scanning receipts is neither trivial nor simple. They might tout it as "No more clipping. Scan Your Receipt.", but here's what the purportedly "simple" process actually entails:

  1. Downloading a mobile app
  2. Registering an account
  3. Associating the account with a school
  4. Scanning your receipt

Once you've done all that, then General Mills will credit the school you've selected.

Oh, don't forget: you can scan 50 receipts per day, but they must be scanned within 14 days of purchase.

Of course, real Box Tops expire expired too, but needless to say, you had far more than 14 days to take care of business.

It would seem that General Mills' new program is downright moronic. There's almost no shortage of flaws with the approach they've taken with this program. Let's get started.

First and foremost, part of the spirit of Box Tops was getting kids involved in the process. It's been many years, but I remember cutting Box Tops out from cereal boxes as a child. They'd go in a little bag and whenever it was full (or there were Box Tops drives or competitions), I'd take it into school.

In fact, parents didn't need to be involved in the process at all. Obviously, they have to buy the cereal, but it's on the kids at that point to cut out the Box Tops and take them to school. And let's face it - it was kind of fun, right?

Sadly, General Mills no longer thinks kids need to be part of the process. Instead, they've put the onus entirely on parents to do all the work. Let's be real, here. As the kids say these days, "ain't nobody got time for that".

And what about the kids? One parent summed it up nicely:

My kids like to search the pantry when there is a competition at school for BoxTops but now they can’t.

Oh, well, says General Mills: too bad, so sad. Next?

But, wait, there's more! Some of the comments on the above post are quite telling. Let's take a look at a few of them:

I must be doing something incorrectly as I have a very long grocery receipt and the only way to scan the 5 boxes of Cheerios I bought and get the date to show is to fold this receipt many times. When scanning, I keep getting the message that the date is missing but it is clearly in my lens when scanning. I have spent over 30 minutes trying to get this fifty cents to my school. Why don’t your company design something that actually works instead of making an impossible program.

Oh, dear. It's almost like there has to be a simpler way… oh, wait… there was!

I don’t like this. I will never remember to scan the receipt and I have friends who save them and some are older and don’t have iPhones. I always remembered to rear them off when I see the box.

I guess General Mills doesn't know that the customer is always right. But, you know what Friedrich Hegel once said: "The only thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history." Well, General Mills does, anyways.

It's pretty obvious that participation is going to fall off a cliff, now that Box Tops is dead and its replacement is a sorry excuse for whatever General Mills wants to call it. As if parents don't have enough to do already, the new, inconvenient way limits opportunities for participation. Don't have a mobile device? Actually care about your health and say no to carcinogenic technology? Too bad, says General Mills, so sad. Got cancer? No problem; we can help with that!

Even if you do have the patience to mess with their new way of doing things, it's completely inflexible. Got two different kids in two different schools? Well, before, you could've just split the Box Tops 50/50 and sent half to one school and half to another. But, hey, the new way is "simple" - what's not to like about that?

Well, apparently, lots of things. Even over a year ago, there was much criticism about the end of Box Tops. Much of it centered around the lack of flexibility and the inconvenience, despite what General Mills touted to the contrary:

"I would rather clip a coupon than scan a 3-foot-long receipt… Grandma sure won’t do this"
"The only thing this scan option will do is stop me from participating in the Box Top program. Don’t try to fix what isn’t broke."
"Schools are going to lose a lot of money because people won’t go through the bother of all this work. And kids are missing out on clipping and being involved."
"I am certainly not going to be sending you my entire grocery receipt. You have no right nor need to know what I am purchasing."

Oh, yeah, there's that, too. Don't want General Mills to know the 500 things you bought at the supermarket yesterday? Too bad for you. You can't have your cake, and you can't eat it, either.

Of course, there's no reasonable of expectation of privacy at all, here. With Box Tops, all contributions were completely anonymous, as far as General Mills was concerned. Now, they can track exactly which users and households are contributing exactly how much to each school. But, in an age where nobody really gives a hoot about privacy anymore, I guess that isn't too much for them to ask.

There's no shortage of flaws with the utterly idiotic program that has replaced Box Tops For Education. Even then, General Mills has to try to put a positive spin on it:

And "by eliminating the postage, transportation and shipping of clips, we reduce costs for schools, as well as help reduce our carbon footprint," the company explains.

It's outrageous enough already what General Mills has done thus far, but it's downright infuriating that they'd take advantage of pressing issues like climate change to deceptively manipulate the consciences of their customers. The new program may very well reduce General Mills' carbon footprint, but it sure as heck won't reduce their customers' carbon footprint. Mobile devices, which are among the least environmentally friendly products of the modern age, will instead significantly increase carbon emissions. Just to upload your receipt on a mobile device requires wireless facilities - either a wireless LAN connection or mobile broadband, and this all requires massive amounts of energy - up to 20 times or more electricity than using a wired network connection. Whether it's Wi-Fi access points or cell towers, these energy hogs waste massive amounts of energy, and any promotion or program that requires their use has no right to be included in the same sentence as "reduce our carbon footprint".

Of course, that's just the energy used by the communication itself. Smartphones are the epitome of planned obsolescence. They require massive amounts of rare earth minerals in places like the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where modern day slaves scavenge these minerals in extremely dangerous and toxic conditions. If you have a smartphone, maybe consider how many African kids died for its making. But it was worth it, right? Now you can send people emojis from your car!

Rare earth minerals aside, the manufacturing process of mobile devices is extremely energy intensive. An exorbitant amount of carbon has already been released into the atmosphere in the making of just one smartphone, before it even gets into the hands of a consumer. And after all this, it suffers from planned obsolescence - after just maybe a few years, consumers throw it away and buy the latest, greatest thing, and the cycle begins all over again. Want to help kill the planet? Go out and buy a smartphone - you can contribute to deforestation, child labor, and carbon emissions, without even leaving your home!

Or, if you want to be boring like me, just use a phone that actually works, like my trusty 1957 Western Electric 500. The quality can't be beat, and it never needs repairs or replacement, so if you want to melt the polar ice caps, you'll be in for a disappointment, but hey, you could probably buy one from a mobile device… that counts, right?

Then there's the Box Top route. Additional carbon emitted by cutting them out and taking them to school? Zero. Carbon footprint, my hat.

It's been disappointing to see yet another company jump on the dangerous and delusional "mobile" bandwagon. Mobile devices seem to be all the rage these days, so much so that they're being pushed anywhere and everywhere, even when they don't make sense. It's hard to listen to AM or FM radio these days and not go twenty minutes without hearing "Listen to WXYZ station, anytime, anywhere - download our mobile app!" (While there may be some merit to "anywhere" if you're outside of the terrestrial broadcast area, it rings hollow if you're in an area with no cellular coverage - radio reception is almost guaranteed to be more widely available within a station's coverage area - and in any case, this has been possible for decades, from dial-in lines in the 20th century to streaming from a station's website in the 21st. Mobile apps have not brought anything new to the table.) It's just what everybody likes - a more inconvenient way of doing something, because let's face it - pushing a button to turn on a radio was too easy. Let's throw some "mobile" into the mix, and consumers will eat it up!

It will be interesting to see how much money General Mills continues to pay out to schools. Inevitably, we'll discover what's obvious even now: this has been a clever ruse by General Mills to kill off their educational philanthropy without explicitly doing so (after all, you could scan your receipt). General Mills may have avoided the bad publicity, but we can see right through them for the phony they are. After all, how else is General Mills giving away free Cinnamon Toast Crunch?

Long live Rest in peace, Box Tops. It was fun, while you existed.

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