How a Pepsi Marketing Scheme Went Wrong—Very Wrong

Pepsi's attempt to improve its market share against Coke in the Philippines sparked riots and death
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 29, 2020 9:30 AM CDT
How a Pepsi Scheme Sparked Riots, Lawsuits, and Death
In this file photo, a Pepsi logo is seen on a delivery truck.   (AP Photo/Seth Perlman, File)

Talk about a promotional stunt gone wrong: Pepsi ran a bottle-cap lottery in the Philippines back in the 1990s that turned into such a nightmare that riots broke out, lawsuits were filed, and five people got killed. Now Bloomberg looks back on "perhaps the deadliest marketing disaster in history." On the face of it, Pepsi goofed by announcing a winning number that was far too common in the caps of designated "Number Fever" bottles. On May 25, 1992, some 600,000 people with the number "349" thought they had won a million pesos—about $68,000 today, or 50 times the average annual salary there at the time—and many rushed to claim their winnings at a Pepsi bottling factory. Pepsi tried altering the winning number, then paid off winners with nominal sums. But protests grew, as did people's anger.

Soon Pepsi employees were being murdered and a homemade bomb bounced off a company truck, killing a schoolteacher and a 5-year-old girl. Pepsi's "349" scheme also rekindled a deeper rage over America's colonial history in the Philippines, which included interference in presidential elections and support of a brutal regime. "It's about Third World countries being exploited by multinationals," said Vicente del Fierro Jr., a preacher who signed up hundreds of people to sue Pepsi for over $400 million in America. Fierro ultimately lost his suit and a Filipino court ruled that Pepsi hadn't been negligent, the Philippine Star reported in 2006. But Pepsi's popularity fell in the Philippines and a slang term emerged: to be "349ed." It means, of course, to get conned. Click for the full Bloomberg article. (More Pepsi stories.)

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