Pepsi Loses Big in Philippine Sales Gamble

A SOFT-DRINK sales campaign supposed to turn a few fortunate Filipinos into peso millionaires has turned into a public-relations nightmare for US giant Pepsi-Cola.

The trouble began May 25, 1992, when Pepsi announced a million-peso prize for anyone holding a bottle cap marked "349."

The company realized the immensity of its mistake when thousands of jubilant people started claiming they had won. Half a million people eventually claimed the prize. But Pepsi refused to pay, saying the wrong number had been announced because of a computer error.

The promotion offered up to 1 million pesos ($37,000) in tax-free cash prizes to holders of the winning bottle cap.

In the months that followed, Pepsi's refusal to pay up led to rioting outside Pepsi plants throughout the country. More than 30 Pepsi trucks were torched.

Some "349" cap-holders filed more than 7,000 cases against Pepsi for fraud. State prosecutors have dismissed about 6,800 of them but hundreds more are still pending.

Pepsi's sales plummeted, and its market share fell from 26 to 17 percent.

To calm the storm, Pepsi offered 500 pesos ($18.50) to every "349" cap-holder as a "gesture of goodwill." So far, it has redeemed 480,000 caps at a total cost of $8.5 million.

Pepsi's marketing director Rosemarie Vera says sales have recovered and Pepsi's market share has returned to 21 percent.

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