It sounded like a great idea: purchase twenty Lean Cuisine entrees and receive a free insulated designer lunch bag. The program was announced on December 4, 2010, with a program start date of January 1, 2011. The timing of the promotion was ideal to capture dieting consumers, freshly energized by New Year’s resolutions.
Lean Cuisine’s website made it sound simple enough: “It’s easy to get your hot new lunch bag-just collect 20 codes from participating LEAN CUISINE® entrées (a few entrées a week is all it takes), enter them on this site, and choose the style that fits you best!”
There are four distinctive designs that consumers can choose between, so it is likely that a consumer can find a design to their liking. On the surface, this promotion is a great way to build and reward brand loyalty, assuming the program is well-run.
And therein lies Lean Cuisine’s nightmare.
The website proclaims: “Look for one code inside every LEAN CUISINE® box you buy (excluding LEAN CUISINE® Market Creations). Even boxes that don’t mention the lunch bags specifically should still contain a code as long as they were purchased after January 1, 2011.”
In reality, many of the boxes still being sold at the consumer level do not have these codes. I purchased twenty Lean Cuisines at my local grocery store on January 9, 2011 and found only two of the first six boxes I opened had codes.
That of course prompted me to look at the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) section of the site, where I found Lean Cuisine indicating “every package contains a code and is still eligible for the program (excluding LEAN CUISINE® Market Creations)”. Clearly this information is incorrect and like most consumers, I wanted to find out how to get credit for the boxes I had purchased that did not have codes.
Further review of the Lean Cuisine website brought me to this nugget of information – if the box is missing a code, contact customer service: “Customer service will provide you with instructions for how to proceed. Hold on to package since you may need to provide proof of purchase.”
I completed the web form to contact Customer Service and received an auto-reply that I would be contacted within three days. The auto-reply claimed to have attached a copy of my email for my records but it was not. Five days later, I still hadn’t heard anything. I called customer service and after a lengthy on-hold period, a Customer Service Representative informed me she would add codes to my account.
That didn’t happen.
Of course, as I opened more boxes and found no codes, I dutifully completed the email form to request credit. In at least one case, the code was unreadable. The codes are in a faint red dotted print. As a result, some of the numbers and letters are difficult to distinguish. Was that character an “O”? A “0”? or a “D”? That prompted another request to Customer Service. This time the auto-responded informed me that I should expect a reply within “five to seven business days”. In the meantime, I was advised to retain all boxes.
Continuing to work my way through Lean Cuisines, I have now opened twenty boxes and found only six had codes. That’s a dismal 30% of the boxes having codes. So now I have a pile of twenty Lean Cuisine cardboard boxes sitting in a pile on my dining room table.
On the Lean Cuisine FaceBook page, I found that many other consumers are experiencing the same frustration. One consumer commented: ” I think everyone who has sent LC an e-mail should get a lunch bag. So we can all shut up and move on with our lives. I thought this would be fun but it’s just a friggin pain in the arse!!! “
Another complaint read: ” What LC is doing to all of us is giving us the run around!!! We shouldn’t have to do ALL of this work!!!!!”
And still another: “I think we should get get some awesome coupons for wasting our time emailing them and typing out time and date stamps and then getting nothing in return. This whole thing is just stupid.”
One consumer noted: “I found that items that look like a capital letter O is really a D and same thing with H and N. The red dot matrix design was a pretty terrible idea, IMO. “
And another commented: ” A bad marketing ploy. A pretty lousy way to treat customers.”
Clearly, Lean Cuisine did not plan this promotion well and it is not living up to the promise found on the website: “It’s easy to get your hot new lunch bag”. Oh, really? Not according to the Lean Cuisine consumers on FaceBook.
One Lean Cuisine Face Book member summed it up best: ” The “free” lunch bag is a promo gone bad.”
The best advice to consumers wanting to earn the free designer lunch bag from Lean Cuisine?
First, buy only the boxes that advertise the lunch bag promo on the front exterior of the box. You are much more likely to find a code inside those boxes.
Second, if your code is unreadable, that “o” or “0” is likely to be a “D”. The difference between these characters is very subtle with the dot matrix print.
Third, if you are encountering boxes without codes, you may find it simpler to wait until you have a group of them before emailing customer service. They will eventually send you codes, but you won’t know which email they are responding to if you send multiple emails for multiple boxes. Instead, batch up ten or twenty boxes, then report them in a single list. Include the type of Lean Cuisine, the entree name, the UPC code and the TimeStamp code for each box.
Fourth, save all your boxes. The timestamp codes are not necessarily unique; I found that in a group of fourteen boxes, two pairs of identical timestamp codes existed for the same exact entrees. I expect that I’ll be asked to mail in the physical boxes to prove that I am not requesting multiple credits for the same physical box. And if you read the fine print, Lean Cuisine reserves the right to request the boxes from anyone.