Friday, March 03, 2000

crackerjack toys

Got a good imagination for names? This is your chance to use it to win a shopping spree.

Crackerjacks, which sells toys aimed at stimulating children's imagination from its location in Belle Mead, N.J., is looking for a new name. If you come up with the winner, you could win a $500 shopping spree.

The quest for a new name comes after crackerjacks, the toy store, received a letter from Pepsico, which owns Frito Lay, which owns Cracker Jack, a brand of caramel-coated popcorn that gets stuck between your teeth when you eat it.

"They actually sent us a cease-and-desist," said Joanne Farrugia, who owns the chain, which also has stores in Skillman, N.J., and in Pennington, N.J.

I was a little surprised to hear the news myself. The store and the popcorn admittedly have similar names, but that's about where the similarity ends. The two target completely different markets, and the toy store is hardly so big that it poses a threat to a candy manufacturer.

If anything, Cracker Jack poses a bigger threat to the toy store because of it at least puts a free toy in every box. I've never received a single kernel of popcorn whenever I've visited the toy store.

"We don't think that there is an issue," said Ms. Farrugia. "The likelihood of winning a case is pretty good, but they're a multinational company. They're huge."

And that, as they say, is that. Pepsico, which employs 150,000 people and produces the entire line of Pepsi products and several other soft drinks to boot. Compared to a small operation like crackerjacks, its pockets are bottomless -- about $46 billion deep.

"I did agree to change it pretty quickly because it's just not that important," said Ms. Farrugia. "It's not even why we picked that name at all."

The name, in fact, came to Ms. Farrugia in mid-1996 from a thesaurus of all places, just before the store was due to open in Skillman.

"Crackerjack" is a synonym for "intelligent," and can refer to "a person or thing of marked excellence," according to Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 10th edition.

"We have since found out that there are several stores called 'Crackerjacks,'" said Ms. Farrugia. "It never even occurred to me, the caramel-coated candy."

By turning the name change into a contest, crackerjacks -- the company writes its current name without a capital C and as one word -- has converted what could have been a setback into a windfall of publicity. Ms. Farrugia told me stories of parents who have run into the store just to enter a suggestion.

The contest will run until April 1, and the store will pick a new name by April 15, 2000. Suggestions are being taken at all three stores, although Ms. Farrugia said they will not use as a name an existing word from the English language such as "Toy chest."

Extant store names such as "Toys 'R' Us" also would be a bad idea.

The address for mail-in suggestions is crackerjacks, 601 Route 206, Belle Mead, N.J. 08876. Of course, given the bulk of my readers live nowhere near Belle Mead, I don't know why I felt obliged to mention that, but there you are.

Now that I have a 4-month-old daughter, I'm tempted to enter something into the contest myself since she would like the toys. My best idea so far might have a little too much panache for the contest, though.

I want them to change their name to "So Sue Us."

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