The Surprising Showdown Between Chips Ahoy! And Third Graders

In their more than 60 years of history, Chips Ahoy! has made it clear they're a legend in the snack food world. According to a 2017 Statista report on US cookie brands, they were the second highest-selling cookie brand in the US, followed by Nabisco's other iconic round snack, the Oreo.

Part of what has made Chips Ahoy! stand out from the cookie competition through the years is their chocolate chip guarantee. When the iconic blue bags first hit shelves in the 1960s, the company issued a tagline that promised 16 sweet morsels in every disc, which later evolved into a guarantee of 1,000 chips per bag, accompanied by the slogan "1,000 chips delicious" (via YouTube). It was a flawless marketing campaign, because who was really going to take the time to count all those chocolate chips anyway?

A group of third-graders from North Carolina in 1996, that's who. These counting kids catalyzed one of the biggest public showdowns in snack food history after they accused Chips Ahoy! of exaggerating their famous 1,000-chips-per bag claim. Here's how cookie clash played out for everyone.

The kids claimed there wasn't 1,000 chocolate chips per bag

Per a Washington Post report, the challenge against Chips Ahoy!'s claim came about after the North Carolina students decided to count the chocolate chips in several packages of their cookies for a math lesson. When they were finished counting, they found there was a range of just 340 to 680 chips in every bag; far from the 1,000 the company's packaging had promised. Uh-oh.

To make matters worse, at the time, the kids had been learning about integrity in school, so discovering one of their favorite cookie companies may have been lying to them didn't exactly go over well. Determined to get an explanation, the indignant third-graders reached out to Nabisco executives, calling out their misleading ads. "Why is your advertising false?" they wrote in an angry letter, the Greenboro News & Record reported. The chips were down, and these kids were ready for war.

Chips Ahoy! fired back by staging a recount

Of course, Nabisco wasn't going to allow their reputation to crumble before their eyes. So instead of waiting out the backlash, they decided to do what any company committed to customer satisfaction would do: they offered to make things right.

According to the Washington Post, shortly after receiving the letters, Nabisco sent representatives to Wadesboro Elementary in North Carolina to meet with the infamous classroom cookie counters. During the visit, reps spoke with the kids about their counting process, and postulated their final chip number was off because the kids had only counted the chocolate chips they could see. They then performed a full recount by first dissolving each cookie in water, which removed the dough and left only chips behind. They put the chips in cups and handed them off to the kids so they could verify the numbers. By the time they were finished, they ended up with well over 1,181 chips per bag, proving Chips Ahoy! lived up to their promise.

Nabisco spokesperson Ann Smith explained in an interview with the Washington Post that the company decided to get involved out of a desire to demonstrate their integrity. "We felt it was our responsibility to make [the kids] feel ... that our claim is, in fact, true," she said.

The public showdown earned Chips Ahoy! extensive media coverage

While the cookie-counting event definitely benefitted the kids, who all received complimentary Chips Ahoy! for their effort, it also proved to be a gold mine for Nabisco. Following the event, Chips Ahoy! received nationwide press coverage and in turn, saw a sales increase of nearly 20%, according to "The Great American Chocolate Chip Cookie Book." And that's not all.

It turns out transforming their chocolate-chip counting scandal into a math experiment for students provided Nabisco with an opportunity to further capitalize on their own advertising. According to a 1998 report on commercial trends from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the North Carolina showdown inspired Chips Ahoy! to develop a nationwide contest that offered scholarships to the top three students who could show the brand their most creative chip-counting methods. Unsurprisingly, a $25,000 grand prize gave people extra incentive to buy Nabisco's crispy snacks. Plus, with a now proven guarantee of chocolate chips in every bite, how could anyone say no?