“Pepsi” A simple marketing campaign caused deadly riots and ended up taking 5 lives!
Pepsi seems a bit farfetched, right?
But this is exactly what happened in the case of Pepsi in the Philippines.
To understand what exactly happened, let’s go all the way back to the 90s.
Coca-Cola entered the Philippine market in 1912. So by the time Pepsi started its sales there in 1989, Coca-Cola had already occupied 75% of the total market.
Now Pepsi wanted to make its own position in cola sales. So in 1992, Pepsi launched a groundbreaking marketing campaign to capture some market share. This campaign was thought to be a masterstroke, however, it ended up being called the Number Fever Campaign.
As of today the Pepsi officials regret that this happened and could have been simply avoided by little precaution. This campaign has become a thoroughly read marketing case study and imparts a lesson on why it is necessary to put attention to what you do.
It was a lottery-based competition. The concept was that 3-digit codes were printed on the underside of Pepsi bottle caps. Every night a certain number was announced on Channel 2 news program in Manila and the person with the lucky number got the award. The awards ranged from as low as 100 pesos to as high as 1 million pesos in today’s term equivalent to around 38 lakhs Indian rupees. 611 times more than a citizen’s average monthly salary in the Philippines.
The initial response to this campaign was phenomenal. In just a few weeks, the sales had gone up by 40%, and in an eye-blink, Pepsi had captured a 25% market share in the Philippines.
The Number Fever became so hyped that people started buying Pepsi just to hoard caps. Not just this, people were found rummaging through the garbage to find caps, and reports of maids stealing Pepsi bottle caps became common.
Everything was well until it wasn’t anymore.
Fast forward to 25 May 1992, the evening it went all wrong.
Thousands of eyes were glued to the channel waiting for THE LUCKY NUMBER to be announced. The lucky number winners would be awarded a whopping 1 Million Pesos. Amount large enough to give a dream lifestyle to a family in those times.
There were supposed to be just 2 winners for this grand prize but due to some “glitch” in the system, the number of winners was a lot more. How much more you ask?
Not 5, not 20, not even a 100.
There were 8,00,000 winners!
The lucky number “349” which was supposed to be printed on 2 caps was accidentally printed in 8,00,000 bottle caps.
To the poor population of the Philippines, it was a life-changing sum of money. This amount would have been enough even to buy a new house.
The ecstasy of thousands of Filipinos knew no bounds only to later understand that there had been a terrible mistake.
Imagine winning 15 lakhs overnight, planning everything that you want to do with it, telling your whole family only to realize that all was a facade. To say you would be angry would be an understatement. The same was the case with the Filipinos.
The number of winners grew up to 486,170 (many winners out of 800,000 didn’t notice that they too have the 349 numbered cap), and awarding previously promised sum would grow to a total of 32 billion dollars.
Realizing the same, Pepsi executives in the Philippines called a 3 AM emergency meeting to decide on their course of action. They knew that they could not get away without paying anything to the winners so they ended up paying 20$ to each instead of 40000$.
This was hardly compensation!
Thus began the protests outside Pepsi’s headquarters. The Filipinos took a vow to get what was rightfully theirs. In a feeble attempt to save themselves, Pepsi erected barbed wire around their office.
Trucks were raised, motolov cocktails and homemade bombs thrown.
A certain protestor went further and claimed,”Even if I die here, my ghost will come to fight Pepsi.”
As things started to turn more violent, the police were called, who in turn had to throw tear bombs to handle the crowd.
These deadly riots ended up taking 5 lives and injured a dozen more.
Riots did die out eventually but 22,000 people filed 689 civil suits against Pepsi. It wasn’t until 2006, that Pepsi was cleared of all criminal charges relating to the Number Fever.
Big breakthroughs are important when entering a new market. This gives the company a prominent heads-up for future operations. However as important as it is to think and plan a business campaign, it is equally important to keep an eye on details and securely plan for execution. Extra precautionary steps should be taken if needed to be.
Even after 30 years of this campaign, inspiring marketers still read this case study for a lesson that is very important for their careers- How to not execute a campaign!
If you have read till here, do not forget to leave your comments about what you feel about this campaign. Also if you have new ideas or topics that you would like us to cover, do leave them in the comments section.