It reminded me a bit of a Superbowl ad that changed vending machines forever. Most of my readership (that I know about) is either my age or a little bit older, so you probably remember how absolutely dreadful vending machines used to be at accepting the dollar. Back then most didn’t, but those that did would seemingly spit out any dollar bill that wasn’t fresh off the mint. If you had a dollar bill and you saw a vending machine that you wanted to take advantage of, you genuinely had to ask yourself if the dollar was in good enough shape to use. These days you only have to worry about it if the dollar is in particularly bad shape. I remember precisely when this started changing.
I can’t remember what Superbowl it was, but there was an ad that took place in a desert landscape with a little wooden building. It slid around the landscape and you heard this “vreeemp… vrooomp” sound. Eventually the camera slid to the other side of the wooden building and it was a guy trying to get a damn vending machine to accept a damn dollar bill. It was hilarious because it was so true. I think the ad served as a wake-up call to the vending machine industry that their failures have been noticed and within a year it started accepting used dollar bills without too much hassle.
Slate has a good piece up about the government’s meek and ineffectual attempts to shift the dollar to coinage rather than paperage, including a good history of the attempts it has made and why they have failed. It includes an interesting bit about vending machines with a rather similar ad:
According to the GAO, “an informal Treasury restriction” prohibited the Mint from suggesting that a coin was superior to a billóit could say only that a coin was also available. One TV spot showcasing a frustrating vending-machine moment (vvmp-vvvvmp, vvmp-vvvvmp) was scotched, after a combative meeting at the Treasury, on the grounds that it “negatively portrayed the dollar bill.”
Other than the flashback to the aforementioned ad, it brings to light what I’d considered one of the biggest stumbling blocks to a new $1 coin: vending machines. I find it very odd that they would use vending machines since none of them, you know, actually accept dollar coins.
Anyone that’s had to deal with a $50 bill will tell you that no one wants currency that you can only spend in particular places. Okay, granted, if someone handed me a $50 bill I would take it for sure, but not at the expense of two twenties and a ten or five tens. So I figured that the key to getting the $1 coin in circulation would be to make sure that machines, as well as people, accept them. Apparently it’s a little more difficult than even that:
Shoppers won’t use dollar coins till they see businesses taking them; businesses won’t use them until banks give them out routinely; and the banks aren’t going to invest in infrastructure changes, like new coin-counting machines, until they see the public using the coins. Everyone’s waiting for someone else to move first.
The Slate article suggests that the only way to do this is to get rid of the dollar bill, which is probably right. Dollar bills are more convenient and I’d miss them, but I think on the whole he’s probably right and it is time to make the change.
As you probably know, they’re about to try again with the dollar coin and they’re going to put the face of each dead president on it. It’s a gimmick, but whatever it takes to get James K. Polk’s face on a coin is alright by me.