An Epic Marketing Mistake (4 min read with a feeling of whoops)


An Epic Marketing Mistake (4 min read with a feeling of whoops)

We’ve all made a mistake from time to time, from the odd typo on a Facebook post, liking the wrong post or even sending an email to the wrong person – we’re only human after all,  but let me tell you a story that will make you squirm…


It’s 1992 Manila, Philippines. Pepsi-Cola Philippine is being outsold by Coca-Cola with a 75% to 17% market share.

Enter ‘Number Fever’…

Great name, simple plan … Each bottle of Pepsi, Mountain Dew and 7 Up would have a 3-digit number printed on the inside of the cap. With cash prizes ranging from 1,000 pesos to the grand prize of 1,000,000 pesos.

The campaign took off, sales went up by close to 40%. HIGH FIVES!

What do we do when campaigns go well? Go Harder!! Lots of entries.

Elated officials added five more weeks to the initial 12 weeks of the advertising campaign. New ads read: “More chances to be a millionaire!” (Drogin, 1993)

As the weeks wore on, more than 51,000 people won cash prizes. The vast majority won the smallest prize, 100 pesos. But 17 people won 1 million pesos and were featured in Pepsi’s advertising blitz. (Drogin, 1993)


What could go wrong?


It’s time to announce another grand prize winner of 1 MILLION PESOS

And the winning number is



Someone missed the memo; 800,000 caps had the number ‘349’ printed on them. Imagine being the guy responsible, just pack your things and leave. This isn’t a simple typo on a Facebook post mistake….



When things go PAIR SHAPED!


Thousands of Filipinos claim their prize. Pepsi duck and weave, claiming improper security codes on caps and a computer glitch, “Sorry folks, our bad, you have not won a million pesos, here have a Pepsi”

It gets serious now. Riots, people are actually killed, Pepsi trucks set on fire, bottling plants firebombed. Executives leave the country.

Thousands of disgruntled Filipinos join Anti-Pepsi organisations. One, Paciencia Salem, 64, said her husband died of heart failure at an anti-Pepsi rally and claimed that shew was prepared to do the same.

“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.” (Drogin, 1993)

Everyone settles down and files a 400 million class suit against PepsiCo. They paid out approximately 10 million in restitution and legal fees and as a sign of goodwill paid close to 500,000 to non-winning claimants. It’s fair to say that this campaign has lost its shine. In 2006 the Supreme Court of the Philippines cleared Pepsi of all criminal charges and were not held liable for the riots.




So, there it is, next time you make a little whoopsie just think Pepsi… things could be worse.

If you know of or are responsible for any monumental mistake please feel free to comment below, unless of course, it is something I have done wrong…



Simon Miles is head of digital strategy and operations at Digital Marketing Adelaide. He leads our studio design & creative team. Simon is a marketer with a passion for creating beautiful and effective advertising but he’d probably rather be on the golf course.