[monkeywire] Pepsi sweepstakes to star "an unusually dexterous monkey"

Alexandra Ringe aringe at andante.com
Thu Apr 10 13:41:00 EDT 2003


Pepsi's billion-dollar monkey

A new contest offers a chance to win $1B. But first, a simian must pick the
magic number.
April 10, 2003: 1:01 PM EDT
By Gordon T. Anderson, contributing writer, CNN/Money

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Joe Millionaire? This fall, someone will have a
chance to become Joe Billionaire, thanks to the marketers at Pepsi, Warren
Buffett, and a nimble-fingered monkey.

The company has announced the May 1 launch of a summertime promotion, "Play
for a Billion," in which consumers will compete for large cash prizes,
including a potential ultimate payout of $1 billion in September.

There's no guarantee that anyone will win that prize, however. In fact, the
chances of doing so are infinitesimally low. Still, the contest represents
the latest upping of the ante in an even larger, corporate sweepstakes known
as reality TV.

Here's how it will work. The company has printed a sweepstakes entry code on
the caps of specially marked bottles of Pepsi, Mountain Dew, and Sierra
Mist. Select fountain cups (e.g., at movie theaters) will also have stickers
with entry numbers on them.

A billion numbers will be generated, one million of which will be instant
winners (a $15 prize). To play for the bigger prize, anyone with a number
can enter it on a Web site (not yet launched) or mail it in. Pepsi expects
about 15 to 20 percent of all the codes will be redeemed.

>From that list of entrants, 1,000 codes will be randomly selected for the
big-money competition, a two-hour TV special, to be aired live on the WB
Network in September.

Through a somewhat complicated process of elimination, the thousand entrants
will be pared down to a list of 10 finalists, who will then compete for a
guaranteed $1 million prize.

Once the 10 finalists emerge, they will enter into successive, numbers-based
games of chance. Through a process of progressive elimination, the
million-dollar winner will be picked.

That winner will hold a multi-digit number. In order for him to become a
billionaire, the number must exactly match a number to be drawn at random on
live TV.

"An unusually dexterous monkey" will do the picking, says executive producer
Matti Leshem. "It's the ultimate slap in the face to evolution: the fate of
a billion dollars will be in the hands of a monkey."

Big bucks on the WB
In the regurgitative world of reality television, producers are hesitant to
reveal the details of any program before it's aired. (Competitors roll out
knockoffs faster than you can say, "Joe Millionaire is a Bachelor.")

Nevertheless, the show -- produced by Diplomatic Productions, which was
responsible for "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" -- is shaping up to be a
reality TV spectacular.

"There's going to be a big-name celebrity host, and plenty of great
entertainment," says Leshem.

Marketing experts estimate that Pepsi will spend about $15 million to
advertise "Billionaire," roughly the same as it spent on last summer's
marketing efforts. There will also be extensive promotional tie-ins with the
WB Network and its corporate parent, AOL Time Warner (which also owns

The game-show angle represents a creative push to build word-of-mouth
attention for Pepsi. "This is a bigger idea than our previous marketing,"
says spokesman Dave DeCecco. "We think it will really drive excitement
around the Pepsi brand, as people start talking about the sweepstakes."

Billion here, a billion there
No matter how many people ultimately watch the program, though, can any
product marketer afford to give away that much cash? After all, as the late
Sen. Everett Dirksen once observed, "a billion here, a billion there, and
pretty soon you're talking real money."

For help, Pepsi turned to Dallas-based SCA Promotions. The firm provides
financial protection called "prize coverage services," a process of
insurance and re-insurance that allows marketers to offer oversized prizes
without assuming outlandish risk.

"By mitigating risk, we help companies offer a prize that would be beyond a
sponsor's ability or desire to pay," says Robert Hamman, SCA president and

"It doesn't take long to call the roll of companies that would be willing to
take part in a super-jumbo case like this," says Hamman. The only possible
U.S. underwriter: Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A: Research,

In return for a seven-figure premium (less than $10 million), Berkshire has
assumed the risk of a payout. If the monkey picks the right number, the
winner will receive an annuity worth $1 billion, payable over a multi-year
period. (As in a lottery, the recipient could instead choose a smaller,
one-time payout.)

As noted, that probably won't happen. If it does, though, Pepsi would be
thrilled, because the promotional value of a billion-dollar payout would be
inestimable. Even better, the money would come from Berkshire Hathaway.

That company, among other things, is the largest shareholder in Coca-Cola
(KO: Research, Estimates).

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