Misleading instant win promotions

I’ve been entering competitions for twenty years (and blogging about them for eight years), and I’ve spent too much of that time reading Terms & Conditions! I like T&Cs to be easily accessible and clearly written, so people can read them before entering a prize draw or competition, and decide whether they want to take part.

Unfortunately this is getting more and more difficult. Promoters don’t bother to publish T&Cs, or claim that there’s too much information to fit into a competition tweet or Facebook post (ever heard of a link?). And when you do finally find the T&Cs, they’re written in such a long and complicated way that you have to study them for 45 minutes!

Yesterday I broadcast live on my SuperLucky Facebook page, talking about my least favourite type of on-pack promotion – the ‘instant win’ promotion where ‘although all prizes are available to be won, there is no guarantee that all prizes will be won’. There are several different types – the pre-determined codes (the code on your product is assigned a winning or losing status, but you don’t know until you enter it online), the mysterious algorithm that decides whether your code is a winner, and promotions where prizes will only be awarded if someone enters a code during a winning moment, which could be less than a second!

Unfortunately this type of promotion is all too common now. You’d have thought promoters might have learnt their lesson after the Covent Garden Soup ‘Win a Farm’ debacle in 2012, but some of the current offenders (and their advertised prizes) include:

Prizes are ‘available to be won’

The ad campaigns for the ‘algorithm’ type promotions (Branston Beans, Jacobs Creek, McCain and Onken) have the WOW factor, with a huge amount of prizes to be won. But when you read the small print, you find that actually the prizes are only AVAILABLE to be won – there’s no guarantee that any will be won at all. But what does that even mean?

All those advertised prizes will only be won if there is an entry online for every promotional pack that has been produced. 

Generally with this type of promotion, the number of prizes won will be less than 10% of the advertised prize fund. Why? Because most people don’t realise there’s a promotion, forget to enter, can’t be bothered, lose their receipt, can’t find (or read!) the code… or the products are still sitting on supermarket shelves after the closing date!

What are the odds of winning?

The ‘algorithm’ mentioned in the T&Cs for this type of promotion is something like this:

(total number of promotional packs produced) ÷ (total number of prizes available to be won) = (your odds of winning a prize with your entry)

As an example, let’s say ten million promotional bottles of wine are produced, and there are 4000 prize vouchers available to be won.

Your chance of a win is 10,000,000 ÷ 4,000 = 2,500
…so a 1-in-2500 chance of winning when you enter a code. 

In my Facebook video I focus on these current promotions from Onken and Jarlsberg cheese. Also check out my blog post about McCain Great Village Raffle – I’ve still not heard of a single winner in this one!

Onken Yogurt – ends 25th May 2017

Wow, Doesn’t this one look great? 50,000 prizes – a super generous £2.5million prize fund from Onken. To take part, enter the batch code from a promotional yogurt at www.onken.co.uk/win to find out if you’ve won a Nutribullet instantly.

Take a look at the T&Cs:

Winning participants will be determined by a secure and automatic computer-generated algorithm that produces verifiably random results. Each participants chance of winning is based on the promotional volume vs the number of prizes to be given away at the start of the promotion. This percentage chance of winning will not decrease across the promotional period. The number of prizes won will be (statistically) dependent on participation rates. 

Yes, it’s that dreaded algorithm again! And Onken are actually making it even harder for winners to claim their prizes – not only do they have to post off their winning lid and receipt, apparently they are being asked to post off all losing lids and receipts too. I’m guessing this is because batch codes aren’t unique – so in theory you could be sharing codes with friends. But this will also cut down on the amount of successful prize claims (why would you keep a messy, losing yogurt lid?) – and with entries capped at ten per person anyway, all this faff seems a bit much!

But actually, let’s cut Onken some slack here. Prizes HAVE been awarded – at least ten that I know of! And even if only 1% are won (which is my prediction) – that’s still 500 Nutribullets, worth more than £25,000, which is actually pretty generous! But wouldn’t it have been nice for them to actually put that on the yogurt pots? I think ‘500 Nutribullets to be won’ would still have great appeal to consumers. Onken could have guaranteed the prizes would be won, and given them away after individual winning moments, or even 40 a week in a prize draw.

Jarlsberg – ends 25th May 2017

There’s no algorithm involved with this promotion – but instead, a clever way to ensure that very few prizes are awarded. Promotional Jarlsberg packs suggest there are hundreds of gift cards to be won every hour by entering your barcode at www.winwithjarlsberg.com. T&Cs however, are somewhat different…

Prizes are allocated to 5 second winning ‘moments’ throughout the Promotional Period. If a consumer submits an entry during a winning moment, they win the prize allocated to that moment. There are 1,032 winning moments (12 per day), with 1 prize allocated to each ‘moment’.

So, rather than ‘hundreds of gift cards’, there’s actually just one available prize each hour, and to win it, you need to enter the promotion in that hour’s single 5 second winning moment. The chance of hitting that moment with your entry? Just 1 in 720 – not great! And if nobody enters in that moment the prize isn’t given away.

In fact this promotion is the same format as the Jarlsberg ‘Win £100,000 of prizes’ promotion from last year, where their winners list showed that only 30 of the advertised 1345 prizes were won. And the promotion must have increased sales so much (and at such low cost to Jarlsberg) that they’re running it all over again with different prizes! It’s a thumbs down from me…

A few examples

Here’s some example statistics on prizes won from three widely publicised instant win promotions last year. Highland Spring were predetermined winning codes on bottle labels, Spell & Go was the ‘algorithm’ in action, and Jarlsberg used a 5 second winning moment.

  • Highland Spring Win 15,686 tennis sets promotion – 1474 (9%) were won
  • Walkers Spell and Go Win 20,000 holidays – 796 (4%) were won
  • Jarlsberg Win £100,000 prizes – 30 of 1345 (2%) were won

Better options for promoters

If a promoter does want the WOW factor, they could still go for a Willy Wonka style instant win ‘golden ticket’ promotion – Gooless Creme Eggs, Pot Noodle Win £1000, Actimel Win a Mini, McCoys win £10,000 are all current examples. Like the ‘algorithm’ promotions, it’s a poor chance of winning, and not all prizes will be won (in some cases, none will be claimed!) – but at least the T&Cs are easy to understand. You buy the product, and you find out you’ve won by checking the packaging when you open it. Simple!

Of course, we’d love to see more brands doing proper winning moments promotions where the first code entered after (not during!) a winning moment wins a prize. Unfortunately with all prizes usually being awarded, ‘winning moments’ promos are expensive! (current example – KitKat)

There’s also the option of a prize draw rather than the instant win – your unique code or receipt details gives you an entry into an hourly, daily, weekly or monthly random prize draw from all codes entered. Again, all prizes should be given away using this method and you can generally have an entry for every product you buy (current examples – Country Crisp, Wyke Farms, Original Source, Muller Light, Activia).

In conclusion – I’d like promoters to be transparent and honest, with advertising that matches the T&Cs. Make the terms clearer and easy to understand. Decide how many prizes the budget will cover and put that number on the packaging. Don’t multiply that number by 10 or 20, then use the ‘available to be won’ algorithm nonsense. People don’t understand that, and it’s not treating customers with respect! Consumers will see that advertising in the shops and buy products because they believe they have a good chance of winning something, when that’s simply not the case.

If you’d like to know more about purchase necessary and instant win competitions, see my posts a guide to purchase-necessary promotions and top tips for winning on-pack promotions.

What are your thoughts on this type of promotion? Do you ever read the T&Cs before you buy a promotional flashed pack?

23 Responses

  1. Sophie Grayling says:


    Unfortunately another available to be won competition! Atleast the 10x big prizes are guaranteed to be won! And it’s an essential buy for me anyways

    • Di says:

      I believe the same agency as McCain Great Village Raffle are doing the Bodyform comp – I reckon they’ve added in the ten guaranteed prizes because of the fuss over the McCain competition….

  2. Posiekins says:

    I tend to be a bit suspicious of competitions with this many prizes, so I would read the T and Cs carefully but these ones sounds really confusing.
    I am saving up my Yeokens anyway so definitely won’t be persuaded to switch by this promotion!
    Thanks for this blog, saves a lot of legwork!

  3. Jamie Millard says:

    It seems to hit harder when a company changes between different competition methods. Take Walkers last year. Their Game Ready comp was fab. Winning moments, most people winning lots of prizes. They then announced the 20k holidays comp that followed it and everyone (who aren’t as diligent as you at checking terms!) were rubbing their hands together thinking a holiday win was inevitable. The shock at the odds hit harder knowing what had come before.
    Onken’s comp last year was fab. Enter the codes online, then each hour they’d draw one winner from those that entered that hour to win £500 worth of Kitchenaid/Joseph Joseph kitchen equipment. I won that comp and was delighted (their terms stated they may ask for lids to be sent but they never asked and just sent the prize. You could enter at will last year too). They now go down the dreaded algorithm ‘available to win’ route which will fool a lot of people (my girlfriend sarah came home with Onken saying ‘guess what – Onken’s comp is back!) no, it’s not, it’s very different. I agree that if they ran a ‘win 1 of 500 nutribullets’ and they were guaranteed to be given away, it’s still a great comp to shout about.

  4. Kellie Faggle says:

    I’m appalled by the Onken promotion! Odds of winning are ridiculously low anyway and then you have to jump through hoops if you are “lucky” enough to win by providing loosing lids & loosing receipts. Absolutely farcical. I’ll be saving myself the disappointment and not buying another pot!

  5. Claire Reeves says:

    Wow, some chances are surprisingly low! Going back to the Kitkat promotion – Ive won about 5 or 6 packs now and I noticed the last two times I haven’t been able to upload a photo for a personalised pack and had to use their readymade backdrops, which I don’t mind, really as I’ve had a few with pics on but I wondered if they didn’t realised how much this was going to cost them. Still I am very grateful for the promotion (FREE CHOCCY!!!) and I am pretty sure it was them that years ago – I’m going back to about 1995ish here – did a promo where you sent off the wrapper with your name+address and which of the top 100 album chart albums you wanted and I won one of those – my first EVER win on anything! So I’ll always have a place for them in my heart! Haha!

  6. TheBrickCastle says:

    I’m really stunned just how incredibly low it is! Clearly they are all terrified of the ‘Hoover’ effect, but sheesh, if you advertise a certain amount you should at least come somewhere ballpark close.

  7. Monica Gilbert says:

    A lot of times, I’ll only go with products I’d normally buy. So I might get the Onken yogurts with the contest (Onken is one of the brands I get for breakfast, depending on what the price is). Or I’ll pick up a different brand of something I need, if the price difference isn’t too great. Most of these contests don’t seem to be worth it, so I’m not going out of my way to waste money for the slim chance of winning.

  8. sonseyface says:

    I bought the yoghurts you had on the site a few weeks back, that you had to buy from Tescos to win a fit bit. However, when I got home and checked, there prizes were for only a set number of Tesco stores and mine wasn’t one.

  9. elainehollis says:

    My sister has won 2 prizes recently- a year’s supply of Brancott Estate wines and a £40 takeaway voucher from Jacob’s creek. Both were instant win collars where she was told “sorry not a winner” yet next day she was emailed to say she was.Jacobs didn’t ask for a receipt or collar but Brancott did .I tend to rip them up if not a winner

    • Well that’s got me scratching my head! What do you think happened there then? A glitch in the system? Lucky lady!

    • elainehollis says:

      I reckon they check next day to make sure you’re over 18. It’s possible you’ve already thrown your collar in the recycling and it’s been emptied when you find you’re a winner

  10. rebecca beesley says:

    I tend not to enter too many of these but my preferred ones are the prize draw ones done at random like the Wyke farm one you mention as i will buy more of that particular product in order to enter. Having said that the winning moment (as long as it is awarded closest to the winning moment) is also quite exciting as i won a few walkers t-shirts last year by setting the alarm for 5am – but on the other hand i value my sleep too much to do that sort of thing too often! Totally agree need transparency and far better to award fewer prizes when advertised than to mislead. thanks for such an informative blogpost Di! x

  11. Simon Tinsley says:

    Back in 2004 (I think) I entered a competition to win a Sony PSP from Findus. It was one of the first “Enter your winning number online” baloney things. However it had a No Purchase Necessary route (are those still available?) and so I sent my name and address by post. Two weeks later a brand new PSP.

  12. Yvette Morgan says:

    very interesting, thank you x

  1. 05/04/2017

    […] Blogger Di Coke, who has been getting into competitions for 20 years, mentioned clients had been being “taken for a little bit of a journey”. […]

  2. 05/04/2017

    […] Blogger Di Coke, who has been entering competitions for 20 years, said customers were being “taken for a bit of a ride”. […]

  3. 05/04/2017

    […] Blogger Di Coke, who has been entering competitions for 20 years, said customers were being “taken for a bit of a ride”. […]

  4. 05/04/2017

    […] Blogger Di Coke, who has been entering competitions for 20 years, said customers were being “taken for a bit of a ride”. […]

  5. 29/04/2017

    […] Blogger Di Coke, who has been getting into competitions for 20 years, mentioned clients have been being “taken for a little bit of a experience”. […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.