The campaign was an instant smash: Pepsi’s sales shot up nearly 40 percent, and its executives, now drunk with that sweet, sweet marketing power, expanded the number of prizes to over 1,500 and kept the contest rolling for an extra five weeks. Filipinos drank Pepsi “with every meal and snack” and hoarded the possibly precious bottle caps. When the contest was over, it was estimated that more than half of the Philippines’ population of 63 million people had participated. Number Fever was an enormous success, and all that was left was for Pepsi to announce the winner.
So how could such a successful marketing campaign backfire, you ask? Well, certain numbers were not to be selected as the winner; specifically, the number 349, seeing as how it happened to be printed on800,000 bottle caps. But the consulting firm hired to draw the winning number apparently didn’t get the memo, and when their computer chose the winning number, it selected … wait for it … 349. Unsurprisingly, Pepsi executives quickly went from “wet dreams about next year’s bonus check” to “bathing in a tub full of whiskey with a hair dryer nearby” when thousands upon thousands of elated Filipinos came forward to claim their million pesos.
Knowing they had made a huge mistake and for some reason unwilling to pay out the billions of dollars in prize money they technically owed, Pepsi covered its ass by telling the winners that the caps didn’t contain the correct security code. Then, amazingly, hordes of almost millionaires politely responded “Oh, that’s OK, we understand!” and contentedly went on with their lives. Just kidding – the Philippines went absolutely apeshit.