Dear Matthew Alice: Why do coupons bear the phrase “Cash value l/20th of a cent”? Do they really expea me to buy 2000 Sunday papers and spend a whole day cutting out coupons just so I can bring a shoebox full of them to Vons in exchange for a measly dollar? — J. W., Mission Valley
Of course not, J. In fact they sincerely hope you won’t do that. And they make the cash value very tiny to try to discourage any such foolishness. The reason for the cash value statement is the proven capacity of the average, walking-around citizen to utterly and completely miss the point — any point — no matter how clearly and simply it’s made.
Usually, when we Alicelanders or other clear-thinkers get a manufacturer’s coupon for 50 cents off the retail price of a megatub of grits, we bound off to our local mart, grab the grits, present the coupon to the checker, and carry our bargain home. You do that. I do that. But not everybody does that.
According to the kouponmeisters at Procter & Gamble, the company daily receives envelopes containing 50-cents-off coupons for Tide or 25-cents-off coupons for Gleem with requests from Mr. or Ms. Average Citizen that the company mail them the money — the 50 cents or the quarter — in exchange for the coupon. See? They completely miss the point. Somehow they ignore the go-to-the-store-and-buy-the-product part, which causes much consternation among the coupon issuers. To head these consumer dimwits off at the pass, some manufacturers started putting a cash value (an arbitrary figure, by the way) on each coupon so they have a polite way of refusing the request. They will, however, honor that cash value, should you decide to devote your idle hours to coupon clipping. If you send them 20 coupons, each with a cash value of l/20th of a cent, they will spend 29 cents to send you a penny.