Apr 8, 2018

For me, it all started with Ovaltine....

What makes us who we are today? What patterns did we learn early on to set our wheels in motion? What stimulus did we receive that is the basis for our being?....Pretty heavy thoughts, huh?......Nah, at least not for me, because my habits, my methods, my personal rules all began with Ovaltine.

If you have never had the pleasure of experiencing this concoction of barley malt, milk serum (whatever the heck that it is) rapeseed oil (yikes) and other ingredients, well my friends, you need to try it.....NOT!...and yes, they are still making it after over 100 years.

My first encounter with Ovaltine all started not because of it being a breakfast drink or a breakfast substitute, my initial contact was because of some persuasive, controlled advertising by the hawksters who decided back in the 50s to find a way to sell more product by offering something a heck of a lot better than that yucky drink. They offered a prize. One that every little boy and little girl desired.
The Captain Midnight Decoder Ring.

The way the scam went, was you simply sent in a label from the product and probably a dime or a quarter and a self-addressed stamped envelope and you got his incredible spy decoder ring that you would use to decipher messages broadcast at the close of the Captain Midnight Show on early television in the 50s. Prior to the TV show, there was a radio show of the same name as well as a radio show called, Little Orphan Annie, that also sent out messages.

Well, I begged and begged for Mom to buy a jar of Ovaltine. I wanted it so bad I found myself making bargains with her, cutting deals, doing extra chores just so I could have a chance for that decoder ring. We finally came to an arrangement...If I drank, or if I could coerce my brothers to help drink, the whole jar of Ovaltine, then she would send away for the prize.

This was my first lesson in learning that sometimes you have to make sacrifices, sometimes you have to struggle, sometimes you have to do a lot of hard work to get something that you really wanted. Even though in the end,  if it wasn't everything you expected, at least you learned to fight the battles to win the war.

As I grew older and the cereal companies grew wiser, they began to put prizes in cereal boxes as well. I can remember this cool scuba diver that was in a box of Cheerios, wrapped in plastic and placed down in the bottom of the box. You added a little baking soda to the diver and placed him in a tub of water and he would float along the bottom occasionally letting out a bubble....After you ate enough Cheerios you would begin to see part of the toy and start asking for seconds just to receive the reward for your efforts.

After that came Cracker Jacks....oh yeah....and they are still making that product and of course it has the secret ingredient to sell more product.....the toy inside. At least Cracker Jacks had a lot better flavor than the dreaded Ovaltine.

All in all, at least for me, they were all good lessons, although sometimes the reasoning was flawed.

I worked hard to get to the end result. The toy, the gift was dangled in front of me by the Madmen of Madison Avenue and they knew I wanted it. Their goal was to sell product. My goal was to win the prize. And I guess, somewhere along the way we both got what we wanted.

Later in life I learned that the end goal isn't so important as the effort that one puts into it. If we are rewarded a prize with little effort, then we have learned nothing. If we are rewarded a prize for just showing up, we have cheated ourselves of one of the most important things in life. The prize of learning.

By the way, after I got my Captain Midnight Decoder Ring, I couldn't wait for the next episode to air and send the message out after the show. I watched patiently as the codes went across the screen and I copied them down.

The message was...."Drink more Ovaltine"........that too was a lesson I learned and can remember some 60 years later.....