A marketing scheme that's hard to swallow

The latest word on potato chips doesn't come from the Atkins Diet but from Procter & Gamble. The household products giant recently announced plans to print trivia questions directly onto Pringles chips. The new snack, part of a joint marketing venture with toymaker Hasbro to promote the Trivial Pursuit Junior Game, should hit supermarket shelves by August.

Can SAT prep graham crackers be far behind? Everything reads better on a Ritz cracker!

This could be a boon for anyone hungry for knowledge, but literate couch potatoes may find it a greasy slope. Clutching the Pringles, I already have to deal with my wife asking, "Do you really need that?"

Soon, I'll confront a salty snack demanding, "What is the capital of Nebraska?" It might be easier to eat an uninscribed celery stick.

As if bookworms didn't have enough to worry about with the e-book, now we've got literature jumping from microchips to potato chips. Trivial Pringles could be the dawn of a new age of edible printing. Armed with this technique, the food industry could regard every bite as a blank page. Just imagine some modern-day Gutenberg cooking the books. The possibilities are endless with the new convenience of movable tripe.

"Like Water for Chocolate" would be even sweeter printed on Hershey bars. Feminists might find Hemingway more palatable if "A Moveable Feast" appeared on slices of brie.

Twenty years after "A Nation at Risk" raised the alarm about public education, snack foods are coming to the rescue. After all, we've tried longer school days, higher teacher pay, and tougher standards. Now, we can finally cram knowledge down students' throats in a form they'll gobble up.

Taste the early promise of new technology cautiously. TV was supposed to extend quality education around the globe (ha!). And some critics question whether printing photos on ice cream cakes has really led to a renaissance of artistic expression.

Yes, we could read epic poetry on Hostess Twinkies someday (imagine curling up with a Homeric Ding Dong), but such schemes may expand waistlines more than literacy. Madison Avenue has a way of co-opting such technology for empty calories. Indeed, last week's statement from P&G about their Trivial Pringles noted that the chips could someday be printed with ads. In a world where every stadium, bus stop, and school cafeteria is already plastered with pitches, that possibility could be enough to ruin anyone's appetite.

The average American consumes 3,000 marketing images a day. Printing ads on fatty snacks is a recipe to upset the mind and the stomach.

Ron Charles is the Monitor's book editor.

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