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Heymatt:

I was just opening a Kit-Kat bar, and there's a contest under the wrapper. I got the usual, "Sorry. Try again." But in the list of rules it says, "For a free game piece, send a self-addressed stamped envelope to…." I've seen this on every contest. Is there some legal requirement that forces them to print that?

-- J.B. in Mira Mesa

Matthew:

Having recently bought several new high-tech gadgets, I notice that all those mail-in rebates are sent to a P.O. box address in Young America, MN. I also seem to remember that a Young America address was used to send away for toys when cashing in cereal box points and the like. Obviously, most corporations are not based out of Young America, so what's the story with the link between this small town and corporate America?

- Jeremy, the net

Ah, Jeremy. So naïve, so starry eyed. You truly believe a company that makes breakfast cereal or digital cameras will lovingly attend to your rebate requests with their own hands. That Cap'n Crunch or the Dell guy personally shuffle all that paper and cut customers' checks. Well, of course not. They're not going to maintain a staff just to send you money periodically. So when a manufacturer has a big rebate or sweepstakes or coupons or some other paper-intensive promotion, they hire a company to handle it for them. F'rinstance, Young America Corporation, Young America, Minnesota. Young America Corp. and others of its ilk are called fulfillment companies because, I guess, they are supposed to fulfill the obligation the manufacturer has to make good on the rebate promise.

If you've ordered a special product, it's possible it will be shipped out of a fulfillment company's warehouse. Got a customer complaint? Product question? That phone number might connect you to a fulfillment company, not the manufacturer itself. Until 10 years ago, Young America Corp. was in the telemarketing business too. So you might look at fulfillment companies as merchandising whores. Whatever a manufacturer needs, they'll do, as long as the manufacturer is willing to pay for it.

As for J.B.'s Kit-Kat contest, the law says consumers must not be forced to buy a product in order to enter a chance-based contest. That kind of contest is considered a lottery, and only the government can be trusted to conduct a lottery. Whether Kit-Kat likes it or not, they must provide a way for you to participate in the contest (e.g., get a game piece) without actually buying their candy bar.

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