Rewards Programs: Use Them Subversively



I recently started reading an article about how to earn more rewards points -- and ended up pondering mind control and rebellion. It brought me to the realization that it's great to use coupons, rewards and all that -- as long as we use them as subversively as possible.

This Chicago Tribune story, "Companies give green to get green: Incentive programs aim to spread environmental awareness to more-mainstream consumers," is interesting to me on two levels. On the surface, it's a list of ways you can get rewarded for recycling stuff, like RecycleBank*, where you can earn points for green(ish) activities and then redeem your points for coupons and stuff. I got some $2/1 Soft Scrub coupons from them that resulted in free bottles (Yes -- I signed up for some environment-friendly program in order to get cleaning products that aren't especially known as environmentally friendly. I did this to be subversive. See below.).

But the part of the article that piqued my interest on a deeper level was this:

"The green rewards programs are just part of a wave of initiatives aimed at shaping consumer behavior beyond returning to specific brands or retailers. Health care-related retailers aim to encourage healthful living: In April, Rite Aid started its "wellness +" program, which gives members benefits such as 24/7 access to a pharmacist and the chance to accrue points redeemable for product discounts or to use for health screenings. CVS recently completed a pilot program that rewarded consumers who remembered to take their blood pressure medication regularly. And Kroger and drugstore Duane Reade are partnering to test a national program called WellQ, intended to coax consumers into setting and achieving wellness goals, including timely refills of drug prescriptions.

The fact is, Americans seem to love loyalty and reward programs and are more than happy to add another membership card to their key rings. The average U.S. consumer belongs to 12 to 14 loyalty programs. The trick for consumer organizations and brands is to use the programs not only to influence shoppers' buying habits, but also to encourage other behavior, said Kelly Hlavinka, managing partner with Colloquy, part of the global marketing company LoyaltyOne."

That's right: Companies are no longer content to use loyalty programs to push us to buy more of their products -- a goal that seemed pretty forthright and understood. They want to use them to control our behavior. And sure, you might say that they're using them to shape our behavior in positive or benign ways, like reminding us to do healthy things.

But I don't want my behavior to be molded by corporations, any more than it already is by advertising. Yet, I salivate at the opportunity for more free stuff presented by companies like CVS/Caremark expanding their loyalty programs. That's why I endorse the Frugalista Loyalty Program Credo: Take the handouts, and use them. Subversively.

Lemme explain.

I've been living by this credo since at least college, when a loving relative would occasionally send me $20. Sure, I wanted $20, but in my juvenile way I wanted to make sure that I was beholden to no one. Even Gramma. One day I hit upon the perfect solution: take that $20 straight to the liquor store, a behavior the gifter would not have endorsed.

In today's world, the Frugalista Credo is why I delight in pushing the terms of a coupon. It says $1 off one bottle, and the picture shows a giant bottle? Try it on a little bottle. Even better, a bottle that's on clearance. And sorry, but I only read the small type on coupons if it's to my advantage to do so.

The Frugalista Credo is also why I love combining manufacturer's coupons with Catalina deals or clearance prices and getting stuff free. Some sticklers have commented that coupon maneuvers that lead to free stuff are wrong because that's not what the manufacturer wanted us to do. I say, it's right because it's not what the manufacturer wanted us to do. The tools are the coupons -- not us.

Course, in many cases the loyalty program's goals coincide with my own -- be healthy, be nicer to the environment. It gets harder to be subversive. I'm not going to purposely use my RecycleBank points to sully the environment.

However, since I was going to buy Soft Scrub With Bleach anyway, I kind of love that I got it from an eco-loyalty program.

* Like, you can get 50 points on RecycleBank right now simply by signing up for something called the eBay Green Team. That's enough to get $1 off any Coke product, so you can help siphon up more of the world's groundwater!



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