DALLAS–Funyuns, the world leader in artificial onion-ring-flavored and -shaped snack-food items, continues to enjoy an "overwhelming sales lead" over competing brand Responsibilityuns, the trade publication Impulse Purchase Quarterly reported Monday.

The unpopular product.

Responsibilityuns, launched last May in a bold attempt to challenge Funyuns' dominance of the faux-onion-ring snack market, have done "little to no damage" to its rival's sales through the first quarter of 2000.

"I just don't understand what went wrong," said James Connell, CEO of Delayed Gratification Foods, the Dallas-based maker of the sober, salted snack. "Everybody knows that responsibility and self-reliance are virtues which, with patience and persistence, bring rewards far greater than the fleeting pleasure of instant gratification. And, frankly, that is all our competitor has to offer. We felt sure that customers would respond to our product's image of hard work and long-term stability."

Responsibilityuns is not the only Delayed Gratification product to fail to connect with consumers. Also faring poorly are Proprie-Teez Fruit Chews, touted as "a blast of fruit flavor that maintains a basic level of decorum at all times"; Homework-First Nut Clusters, "the candy you only enjoy after buckling down and investing in your education and future"; and, perhaps most disastrously, Reputables, the "pre-wrapped snak-pak for churchgoing folk with a position of good social standing to maintain... in the home, the workplace, and the community at large."

Seeking to appeal to consumers' respect for time-honored values, the products stress thrift, discipline, and a strong sense of personal obligation over what Connell calls the "me first" sensibilities currently dominating the snack-food marketplace.

According to Delayed Gratification vice-president of marketing Anthony Fontaine, it was hoped that the emphasis placed on diligence, proper conduct, and "a little magic extra ingredient known as moral fiber" would win the company's products long-term brand loyalty among customers who "were raised right by honest, hard-working taxpayers."

A new responsibility-themed snack-food item.

Fontaine explained the company's marketing strategy.

"When entering a highly competitive market, it's important to seek out and exploit the weaknesses in your competitors' thinking," Fontaine said. "When looking into the feasibility of breaking into the snack-product field, we noticed a tendency among other brands to stress excess and self-indulgence over the sort of gumption and tenacity that delivers real results over the long haul. Our entire sales strategy was designed to exploit that weakness."

Despite its apparent logic, Delayed Gratification's strategy appears to have backfired. In recent independent focus-group tests of the new product Rote Memorization Doodles, not only did a majority of consumers not respond well, but they actually went out of their way to avoid them. In many cases, those tested opted to leave the premises of the store entirely rather than remain in the presence of a point-of-purchase display stand for the product.

In a subsequent study, respondents to consumer surveys designed to pinpoint the flaws in Delayed Gratification's marketing strategy reported they would "rather eat rocks" than purchase a bag of Auto-Safety-Reminder Cakes. Further, several respondents stated that "there's no reason to waste money on this [box of Insurance Bills Choco Crunches]," claiming that "just looking at the box puts me in a bad mood."

Delayed Gratification, however, has no plans to alter its approach in the face of poor sales.

"It is downright foolish for people to expect to always get everything they want right now, before first earning their reward through the endurance of significant setbacks," said Connell, munching on a bag of Character-Building Puffs. "Yet, somehow, it appears that many of today's snack-food consumers are looking for some sort of 'quick-fix' solution when they walk into a convenience store. Well, our company is above such childish impatience."

Said Fontaine: "The hedonistic party atmosphere endemic to so much of what passes for snack-food-brand identity today might offer consumers a moment of fleeting satisfaction, but once that initial sugar rush has faded, where does that leave them? At Delayed Gratification Foods, we offer customers something better: stability and security well into their retirement years."

"Sales will pick up in time," Fontaine continued. "We may not be shooting up the charts just yet, but slow and steady wins the race."