I am absolutely mesmerized by VH1′s Celebrity Rehab and its companion program, Sober House. I find both show’s real-life peek at celebrity addicts’ half-hearted attempts at recovery absolutely, well, addicting.
You can preach all you want from your high horse about the exploitative nature of such a show, but the fact remains the concept is brilliant: Confine Sean Young, Heidi Fleiss, Gary Busey, Rodney King, Tawny Kitaen, Daniel Baldwin and a host of other celebrity addicts in a small building for three or four consecutive weeks without the booze and/or drugs they normally use to get by on a daily basis and then watch the fireworks.
Why bother with the contrived scenarios of those Real Housewives shows, when both Celebrity Rehab and Sober House guarantee genuinely compelling theatrics? Couple that with celebrity doctor Drew Pinsky’s dubious counseling and you end up with the equivalent of using gasoline to put out a house fire.
So what has this got to do with Coke Rewards, the loyalty program that rewards frequent Coca-Cola drinkers with the promise of lots of free merchandise and services?
Well, for almost a year and a half I was addicted to Coke Rewards. Of course, my addiction was not as devastating as those who are dependent on drugs or alcohol, but it was a powerful addiction just the same. And just like any other addiction, nothing really good ever came from it.
The Story of a Coke Rewards Addict
My addiction to Coke Rewards started on October 5, 2007 with a ten-point deposit into my account from a 12-pack of Coke Classic. After that it was a long, ugly decent into the depths of Hades.
At first, my need to collect points was orderly and rational. I would simply buy my 12-packs and dutifully enter the 12-digit codes printed on the inside of the cartons. I eagerly scanned the Coke Rewards website for items that I desired, and put them on my “wish” list.
Within a couple months, however, it was apparent that Coke Rewards wasn’t going to provide me with the nirvana I was expecting.
Items on my “wish” list were selling out before I could reach the required point values to get them and it became painfully apparent that, unless I was willing to settle for some sorry Coke key chains, or an occasional free 20-ounce bottle of Coke, I was never going to be able to get any of the truly big-ticket items that were being offered up.
The first signs of trouble were subtle.
I found myself getting chummy with the guy who fills the Coke machine at work, hoping for handouts that never came.
I started asking friends and co-workers if they would be kind enough to save their bottle caps for me. At first it was just my close friends, but it eventually spread to anybody I was remotely acquainted with that I saw with a Coke in their hand.
Usually, to deflect suspicion, I would pitifully make up a story that I was saving points for my daughter. “She needs 2000 points for a giant stuffed Coca-Cola polar bear,” I’d say with a nervous laugh, hoping nobody knew I was selfishly gunning for the iHome Desk Lamp (complete with an iPod dock & speakers!) for 3700 points.
After a while, the bottle cap hand-outs from my friends and coworkers became less frequent. So I started shaking them down in the hallways at work.
Eventually I became paranoid. “Hey, Bob,” I’d say, barely able to control myself. “Where’s my bottle caps? I know Clarence down in 201 is collecting them too. You aren’t giving my caps to him, are you?”
Soon, I found myself unable to avoid sneaking a peek at every trash bin and office waste receptacle I passed during the day, hoping to see an empty Coke bottle or, better yet, 12-pack carton that would allow me to feed my relentless addiction.
I eventually hit rock bottom after I caught myself early one morning shamelessly scouring every last inch of my colleagues’ office trash cans in search of discarded 20-ounce bottle caps. It was then that I made a pledge to come clean.
The Coke Rewards Program Is For Suckers
Of course, bottle cap collecting is not as big a problem as heroin- or alcohol-abuse, but it’s similar in one important aspect: over time, it takes more and more Coke Rewards points to get the same results. For example, I bought a Coke T-shirt in May 2008 for 370 points. Five months later, thanks to chronic points inflation, that very same shirt required 760 points.
When the Coke Rewards program started in 2006, rewards points were valued at roughly ten cents each. By 2009 that same rewards point was worth less than four cents. Today, one Coke rewards point is worth only two-and-a-half cents.
But points inflation isn’t the only problem.
As I noted earlier, there were too many instances to count where I would put an expensive item on my “wish” list only to see it be removed from the site months later. This is Coke’s version of Lucy pulling the football from Charlie Brown when he tries to kick it.
One day, I finally came to my senses.
After all the effort I put in saving Coke Rewards, I had only accrued a total of 1407 points and spent 753 of them — and all I had to show for it was two insulated Coca-Cola lunch coolers, and a lousy shirt.
The last time I checked, I had 654 points remaining in my account with 60 more still waiting to be deposited in the form of unopened 12-packs in my garage. If I’m lucky, that’s good enough to get me a red Coca-Cola ball cap, a “vintage” Coke bottle opener, and a couple of free movie rental coupons from Blockbuster.
If anybody wants to take advantage of my unused Coke Rewards codes printed on the cartons, they’ll be in the trash can; feel free to take them.
After all, the first taste is always free.
(This is an updated version of an article originally written on February 15, 2009.)
Photo Credit: Coca-Cola South Africa