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Number Fever: The Pepsi Contest That Became a Deadly Fiasco



In 1992, Pepsi-Cola was in a war with Coca-Cola over the Philippine soda market, and Pepsi was losing badly. So they launched a sweepstakes in which people would collect bottle caps with numbers. The winning number would be worth varying amounts of money, up to a million pesos (worth $68,000 today). Number Fever, as it was called, boosted Pepsi sales as people collected bottle caps with numbers. The winning number was announced on May 25. Marily So tells how her husband located a bottle cap with the winning number, 349, and saw that it was worth a million pesos. There was rejoicing, but the couple did not know that Pepsi had printed 600,000 bottle caps with number 349 on them.

Similar scenes were playing out across the country. A bus driver had three 1 million-peso 349s. A mother of 12 whose children went through 10 bottles of Pepsi a day had won 35 million pesos. Winners raced to the iron gates of Pepsi’s bottling factory in Quezon City, just northeast of Manila, to claim their prizes. As the crowd grew, a secretary dialed the marketing director, Rosemarie Vera. “There seems to be many 349 crowns in circulation among people I know,” the secretary said, according to an account in the Philippine Daily Enquirer. At 10 p.m., someone from the company telephoned the Philippine Department of Trade and Industry and said a mistake had been made.

Within a year, a violent consumer uprising would be under way, with riots and grenade attacks leaving dozens injured and five dead.

Read the full story of the soda pop promotion that went oh-so-wrong at Bloomberg Businessweek.  -via Damn Interesting


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