Friday, April 14, 2006

Contest winners

About 12 years ago, I worked in an office, and my primary function was to perform and organize data entry. The company I worked for provided advertising and marketing services, primarily of pharmaceuticals to physicians and mental health practitioners. They were always giving out free samples of Cardizem and Zovirax, Tylenol Cold and Flu and Prozac, along with cheesy or very cheaply manufactured gadgets: mirrors, pens, tire-pressure checker keychain letter-opener light. Most of the bigger accounts would conduct a reply card drawing, a mass marketing aimed at collecting data while offering a chance at winning excessive monetary compensation. This was a reward for the physician spending 5 minutes of his time answering 5 questinos about the dosage and medication he prescribes for an ailment. The package the physican received contained one of those enclosed pre-printed stamped envelopes, and when the doctor mailed his card back, he was entered into a contest in a giant database deep inside the archives of a computer. It was my job to enter these sequences of numbers, and generate reports of analyses based on the numbers and info submitted by the doctor. I would spend hours doing this.


It was an exciting and humbling experience to be able to pick the 1st, 2nd and 3rd prize winners for these contests: $25,000 here, 10,000 there, it was amazing. Sometimes the prizes were lame, like whole collections and numerous volumes of medical something-or-other, something that would collect dust. At first it was fun, I would put a couple of handfuls into a box and mix them all up, and pick three out.

That way seemed so right.

But then I realized the power I had, and it became righteous. As I was doing data entry for the crates and bags of cards that arrived on a daily basis from the post office, I started really reading and processing the information on the "from" label. Unusual names, and addresses started to stand out, and a few days later I found myself setting those aside. Not many, maybe 1 out of every 50 or so. Then I started setting aside Doctors who were from places that I like, far away, like Soldotna, AK, or with funny names, like Normal, IA or Boring, OR.

I felt like I was small person making a big change for a total stranger, who's name I picked, out of tens of thousands, and sometimes hundreds of thousands of cards with names on them. People I would never meet, in places I would probably never see.

I wonder what happened to all that plastic chatchski giveaway crap that ended up breaking after about 10 uses? I'm sure a large percentage of it ended up in the landfill, but where is the rest? And what percentage is still in use?

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