A Pepsi Bottle Cap Contest Disaster In The Philippines Almost Cost The Company $32 Billion

Pepsi is no stranger to marketing snafus, A Little Bit Human reported. The company's ad featuring Kendall Jenner took the majority of votes in a Mashed exclusive survey of the cringiest celebrity food collaborations. But this ad, which depicts the supermodel as a protester, is not Pepsi's first brush with disaster.

A contest intended to drive sales in the Philippines went horribly wrong in 1992 when the company declared it would give a substantial sum of money to the lucky recipient of a specific three-digit number on the bottom of their bottle cap, according to CBC Radio.

This marketing contest involved multiple smaller giveaways over the course of several months that culminated in the ultimate prize — the equivalent of $40,000 for whichever customer had the number 349 on their cap. Approximately 70% of the Philippines population had their eyes glued to the TV screen when the winning numbers were announced. What happened next led to a dramatic series of events that ended with the death of five or more people.

Bottling plant mistake leads to riots and outrage

A marketing campaign by Pepsi called "Number Fever" had a devastating effect on the Philippines, according to CBC Radio. The campaign featured winning numbers on the bottoms of Pepsi product bottle caps, which were announced on the news. After several months of small monetary giveaways, Pepsi declared it would give the winner on May 25, 1992 the equivalent of $40,000. But when the winning numbers, 349, were announced, hundreds of thousands of people rejoiced because those digits were printed on their caps.

Because of a mistake at a bottling plant, as many as 800,000 caps were branded with the digits 349, but Pepsi only planned to award two grand prizes. This was problematic for obvious reasons. When folks with winning bottle caps turned up to retrieve their money, the company told them that there was none. Pepsi had no intention of handing out the $32 million they owed recipients of the 349 cap, per Esquire, so they claimed that only two caps were branded with a specific code required to win.

The country became rife with protests and anger toward Pepsi. People threw bombs at the bottling plant, which was barricaded with barbed wire. Protesters toppled 35 Pepsi trucks. The riots escalated, resulting in five deaths and many injuries. Ultimately, after calling an emergency meeting, the company offered $20 to everyone who could present a 349 bottle cap, per CBC Radio.

Pepsi pays for deadly marketing mistake

When Pepsi inadvertently promised a life-changing amount of money to hundreds of thousands of customers in the Philippines in 1992, the country responded in outrage, CBC Radio reported. In addition to the price paid in human lives, Pepsi ended up shelling out big time in the slew of lawsuits hurdled its way, according to A Little Bit Human.

Pepsi engineered this bottle cap contest to up the ante in its heated rivalry with Coke, per Esquire. It was largely successful in this attempt, causing the company's market share to increase from 19% to 24% and sales to rise by 40%. The total cost of the contest, even as bottling plants upped their output, surmounted to about $2 million, and it seemed like a win during a time when Coke was dominating the soda market.

Then came the lawsuits. Cases against the company piled up, one of which cost the company $400 million according to CBC Radio. Pepsi also received a fine of 150,000 pesos from the government. Esquire reports that an additional 22,000 individuals filed 687 civil suits against the company on top of 5,200 criminal complaints.