FREAK Shots: Everybody Loves a Winner

Reader Brandon Fuller sends this picture of a blue-ribbon shortage. Fuller wonders if “a significant share of hosts only deem first place finishers to be worthy of recognition in party games.” Olympic silver medalists are often disappointed by their performance – does the same hold true for second-place finishers at children’s birthday parties?



First? who cares. Get it? r r

But I believe this. My son's class all got made up rewards.

Michael Giberson

Obviously the blue ribbons are mis-priced. They should charge more.


#2 is correct - blue ribbons are worth more, so charge more!

Perhaps parents are planning to call it a tie, making everyone a 1st place winner (which lowers the value of such an honor)?


Surely only large parties justify the cost of purchasing multiple placement ribbons?

If we want to answer your question, we need to know the mean size of children's parties. Apply a small correction for the child(ren) who prefer not to participate in party games. Create a scaling model of other discrete party goods that correspond to party size and do not entail competition (e.g. balloons, streamers). Compare the photo (mean sales) with the model (at the mean party size), looking for any discrepencies.

For better analysis, surveys of party good sales vs. party sizes should be done, comparing ribbon sales of each placement against general sales and calculating scaling coefficients (perhaps over certain size ranges).


Of course, the relative popularity of ribbons will need to be taken into account in the first, rough, analysis.


@ Michael Giberson

Excellent point; also, the 2nd and 3rd place ribbons may be overpriced.


It seems like a rater obvious point, but presumably the store orders a larger quantity of first place ribbons. Or that could be the problem. It's just like department stores ordering shirts for sale, where you have, say, a few small, many medium and a mostly large. You stock what sells. No surprise that third place is not very popular.


I thought the tendency these days was to provide every participant some sort of award, and to avoid the ranking and 'emotionally damaging' situations that could come from calling one child better than another. I would be curious to see that store's stock of more generic participation awards.

Assuming that @Shayna is not correct, and that not everyone will receive a 1st place ribbon, I take this as a positive sign; there are at least some people in our society willing to say that in a competition, finishing first matters.


the pricing is correct. the 2nd and 3rd ribbons are only there to sell the 1st ribbons. they are never sold but the parent thinks that they are very clever (and sensitive) by buying only 1st ribbons (thus saving money) and by ensuring everyone comes first.

if they wanted to sell all three they could have called them: winner; gold; 1st


A third place ribbon or a second place ribbon would never sell on it's own.

Everyone who buys a third place ribbon presumably also buys first and second. Everyone who buys a second place ribbon presumably must also buy a first place ribbon.

Retailers should either stock mostly first place and few third place ribbons, or perhaps sell them as a set.


A clever merchant would combine one of each in a sealed package and charge $3.99, doubling the net of most sales with a minimal increase in cost of goods.

Eric M. Jones

I am tremendously puzzled why kids have birthday parties before puberty or consent or HS graduation or ever. I think the Jehovah's Witnesses have got it right. on this point.

I think people need to have more parties, but I think a three year-old's birthday is much of a reason.

David L

Congratulations, 2nd place, you--*almost* won. Of all the losers, you came in first, in that group. You're the number one loser. No one lost ahead of you.

Ricky Bobby

I'll say it again...if you're not first, you're last.


maybe they just give out first place ribbons to everyone. keep there self esteems high, and give them false praise.

Mr T.

There is a strong opinion that for children, competition is inappropriate, (especially at fun events like parties).

So if ribbons are going to be awarded, everyone gets one.


"Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar". This is a perfect example of economists over analyzing. I'm sure both the manufacturer and the store are well aware that 1st place ribbons are the top seller and there is only so much room on the rack and just hasn't been restocked from the back room yet. Customers would perceive variable pricing as being overcharged for 1st place ribbons. They won't perceive lower priced 2nd & 3rd as a discount.

David Jones

It's the cat people ! Anyone who has been to a cat show knows that you get a blue riband just for showing up.