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Fortune cookie fortunes bear sales messages on other side

Thursday, April 19, 2001

By Adam Geller, The Associated Press

NEW YORK -- What would Confucius say?

The Web site Half.com has cooked up a new idea for promoting itself: advertising on the back of fortunes that are found inside fortune cookies. (Associated Press)

Just when it seems there's no surface left that advertisers haven't commandeered, an Internet firm has baked up a new recipe for self-promotion: tiny ads tucked inside fortune cookies.

The ads, for Web site Half.com, began showing up early this month on slips of paper folded into millions of cookies doled out to diners at Chinese restaurants nationwide.

The cookies, made by Wonton Food Inc. of New York, still tender the tidbits of wisdom Americans have long savored with their General Tso's Chicken and fried rice. But while the front of that slip of paper may tell you happiness and a long life are yours, the back offers $5 off your next purchase at the Web site.

"We really want to connect with people and evoke an emotional response," said Mark Hughes, vice president of marketing for Half.com, based in Plymouth Meeting, Montgomery County, Pa. "People are inundated ... with all this stuff, with branding and with logos. At least what we're trying to do is bring a smile to people's faces."

Wonton Food is baking the ads, reading "save a Fortune at Half.com," into 17 to 20 million of the 60 million Golden Bowl brand fortune cookies it makes each month at its plant in Queens, N.Y., said Richard Leung, the company's vice president of sales and marketing.

The company, which bills itself as the largest fortune cookie manufacturer on the East Coast, has filled orders in the past for promotional cookies for corporate customers. But it was up to the customers to hand out those cookies. This is the first time Wonton Foods is baking ads into the cookies it ships to restaurant supply distributors.

"If you go to a restaurant, everybody opens up the fortune cookie and the first thing, even before they eat the cookie, they read the message," Leung said. "That's how you get your message across."

The proof of that point may be the response to the first Half.com cookies, whose fortunes bear the slogan "Free $5."

Some recipients believe that they've just won $5 off their dinner check, which has created some awkward situations for restaurants and distributors, Leung said. His company and Half.com have agreed to revise the text to make its intent more clear.

Maybe fortune cookie advertising isn't so far-fetched in an age when just about any space -- even public restroom urinals -- is considered apt territory for commercial promotion.

But Hughes said his company's ads emphasize fun and innovation over shock value.

It isn't the first novel promotional ploy tried by Half.com, which is owned by online auctioneer eBay Inc. Before it was launched last year, the site persuaded civic leaders in Halfway, Ore., to change the city's name to Half.com for a year. Last fall, site executives put ads on thousands of bags of roasted nuts sold by sidewalk vendors in New York.

The slogan: "Why pay full price when you can get it for peanuts at Half.com?"



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