In 1993, Pepsi ran a contest in the Philippines in which it promised 1 million pesos, roughly $40,000, to the person who found the number 349 inside his bottle cap. Pepsi went on to mistakenly print 800,000 winning caps, leading to outrage and death threats to Pepsi executives.
What if you are celebrating a lifetime moment of becoming a millionaire and the very next moment you come to know that you are not? The same thing happened to the people of Manila (Philippines). In the month of May 1993, Pepsi ads were all over the radios, TV’s and newspapers saying to the people that “Today you are going to be millionaire”. This catchy line was used to promote a marketing campaign in the Philippines. The lucky person who finds a particular number below the bottle’s cap could be a millionaire and win 1,000,000 pesos (Approx. $40,000).
The marketing strategy was to increase the Pepsi sales. Many middle-class people started drinking it in order to win the amount. But unfortunately, any dreams shattered and the scheme failed with a big smash on Pepsi owners face. The winning number announced on 25th May was 349, which was a wrong number. Instead of a single 1-million-peso winner, up to 800,000 bottle caps showed 349 printed on them. And the millions of Filipinos soon started asking for the winning amount.
Unquestionably, Pepsi denied paying the amount as it was their big marketing mistake. The dispute started between the public and Pepsi owners. Owners spent thousands of dollars to the court petitions. The public behavior became irking, and they started throwing stones, burning down and upending the Pepsi trucks. Men carrying weapons have thrown Molotov concoctions and home-produced bombs at workshops and offices. Pepsi officials received many death extortion, and they were protected by bodyguards all the time. Additional heavily equipped guards used to ride on the beverage trucks.
It was found out later, that the corporation decided to pay $20 to each lucky cap holder as they did not know the exact number. But in total, there were around 486,170 cap holders. The business went $10 million over budget for the competition and was compelled to pay $6000 to the country’s consumer protection government department. Charging Pepsi with illegal cases became the trend among the new generation. In the country like the Philippines, which suffered from many financial crisis, the only complaints that frequently draw fuming mobs into the streets are those in contradiction of Pepsi.
Kenneth Ross, the spokesman for Pepsi-Cola International, which owns 19% of the local bottling company, said the company’s position is clear. “We will not be held hostage to extortion and terrorism,” he said in a telephone interview from Purchase, N.Y.
The fire went on and on for a quite a long time, and there were more anti-Pepsi groups formed to take revenge of their mistake.
Spokesman Ross repeatedly refused to explain how the mistake occurred. “This was a computer error,” he said.
Many Filipinos did not agree to the above explanation, and one of the protestors said “Even if I die here, my ghost will come to fight Pepsi,” she promised. “It is their mistake. Not our mistake. And now they won’t pay. That’s why we are fighting.”