The truth about Walkers Spell and Go

Certainly the most controversial promotion of 2016 so far, the main Walkers Spell and Go instant win promotion finally drew to a close at the end of July.

Last week it was revealed by the Daily Mail that a mere 796 of the 20,000 holidays (4%) advertised were actually given away. Ask around on social media and you’ll hear people claiming the promotion was a scam – but it wasn’t. It was just badly thought out.


99% of people don’t read competition terms and conditions – and for the 1% that do bother, the Spell and Go T&Cs really weren’t clear at all. The letter collecting seemed fun at first, but it made the promotion confusing for entrants who foolishly expected a 1-in-26 chance of getting a letter K every time they ate a packet of crisps, presuming that after buying five 6-packs of Walkers they would be jetting off to Phuket!

Lots of promotions are designed exactly like Spell and Go but because the advertising campaign was so high profile, Walkers have pushed this style of instant win promotion into the public eye and suffered a backlash as a result.

In these promotions the huge numbers of prizes are available to be won. That means they will only all be won if every single promotional packet is sold, and every person who eats a promotional packet enters their code on the company’s website.

It’s as simple as that. So when you see a promotion that looks too good to be true – check the exact wording in the T&Cs. If you see the word ‘available’ then that means only a small percentage will actually be given away. It may be a promotion like Walkers where the codes themselves aren’t pre-decided winners, but the code gives you a 1-in-50,000 (for example) chance to win instantly when you input it on the company website. Or it might be like the recent Highland Spring ‘Win 15,686 tennis sets’ promotion, where it was decided beforehand whether each printed unique code was a winner or a loser. In both cases, the prizes would only all have been given out if every promotional pack was sold, and every code was entered on the website before the closing date. And that simply doesn’t happen – 90-99% of people who buy these products just don’t care about entering the competition!

Update: the ASA ruling on 17th August confirms that all letters were pre-assigned to codes on packs for Walkers ‘Spell & Go’ promotion. It was confirmed the ‘swap a letter’ function was designed to never give a C,K or D – and the ASA have ruled that particular aspect of the promotion was “misleading and likely to cause unnecessary disappointment”.

It’s not just Walkers…

Here are a few more guilty parties:

  • Weetabix are advertising 200 sporting experiences worth up to £5000 – but of course, T&Cs state “Although all prizes will be available to be won, there is no guarantee that they all will actually be won.”
  • Princes Corned Beef offer ten thousand prizes of £25 cash, but are more honest in their T&Cs, stating “all the prizes will only be allocated if there is a single entry for every promotional pack entered in to the market.”
  • Brothers Cider offer five thousand festival kits – but again, “although all prizes will be available to be won, there is no guarantee that they will all be won.”
  • Kinder Bueno offer thirty thousand £100 gift cards but their T&Cs are vaguest of all, stating that “every customer entering will have the same chance” to win!

I really don’t enjoy this type of “instant lose” promotion, and would much rather Walkers had gone down the honest route of ’10 holidays a day will be won for 80 days!’ route, using a winning moments mechanism where the first code entered after a winning moment won a holiday. But that wouldn’t have been nearly as exciting as collecting letters would it?

Please leave a comment – I’d love to know what you thought about Spell and Go, and if you’ve been lucky enough to win in any of the other promotions I’ve mentioned above!

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15 Responses

  1. Kerri says:

    I hate to bring a decent comment to this post but I was one of those people lucky enough to win a holiday (I took the voucher instead). I played EVERY DAY with maximum amount of packets you could enter which was 5 and if I remember correctly ‘K’ was the.. 6th or 7th letter I got? I knew I picked it up pretty early on. I didn’t really read the T&C’s so I didn’t realise they were so elusive and that there were only select destinations to go until I couldn’t spell the destination I actually wanted even though I had all the letters for it (hence the voucher). I’m happy I was a winner and I’m sorry for those who were wronged :/

  2. Richard D says:

    Would you care to share exactly how you know, as fact, that the Walkers promotion was run in such a way that “It may be like Walkers – where the codes themselves aren’t pre-decided winners…” – if you don’t know this as fact, why are you commenting on it, until you do know what the facts are? How do you know if each individual published code was assigned a specific letter or not? If they weren’t – this is a controlled scam – particularly as it is widely noted by participants that the three key winning letters were removed from the website “spinner” weeks before the promotion ended and that the published terms and conditions were changed on the Walkers website mid-way through the promotion.

    Your whole piece points to and suggests that it is merely a “badly run promotion” which is in fact helping to soak up some of the PR damage that Walkers have done to themselves, but it appears, in fact, that you don’t know anything more about how this whole Walkers promotion was run and organised than anyone else does! In which case, why not contact Ian Ellington at PepsiCo, find out some hard facts and report back what you find instead this potentially ill-informed “best guess” piece of yours which doesn’t actually tell us anything.

    Do you know, as fact, whether this “796 holidays” represents 796 x 4 people holidays (i.e. “upto” 3184 individual people actually went on holiday as a result of this competition, as one win by an individual = a holiday for “upto 4 people”, or whether this actually only represents 199 winning codes having been won by 199 individuals, which then represents 4x people going per win – 796 in total. It’s rather unsurprising that the winning number of holidays is a multiple of 4)?

    • Thanks for taking the time to comment Richard!

      I do know how this promotion was run, because it was dealt with by PromoVeritas, and I’ve been fortunate enough to meet with their MD and discuss the ‘algorithm’ method used in similar promotions (and there ARE a lot of similar promotions, where brands take out risk insurance in case too many of the prizes are awarded). It’s just rather hard to explain – Jeremy at PromoVeritas actually explained it as rather like an imaginary roulette wheel: a printed pack code gives you one chance to spin the wheel, and imagine that wheel has (for example) 50,000 numbers on it – and one of those numbers is the holiday prize. The letters part of it was just to spice things up a bit, but the mechanism remains the same. The only piece of the puzzle we don’t have for these promotions is exactly HOW MANY flashed packs with codes were printed – if we knew that figure, we could deduce the exact chance of a win by dividing that figure by the number of prizes advertised on pack.

      As for the holidays, I’ve seen the list of winners and there are 796 different names listed – so 796 prize holidays were awarded. That’s actually more than I expected, and cost Walkers more than £1.5million, making it actually a HUGE prize fund.

      • Richard D says:

        How exactly do you know that the “algorithm” method was used in this promotion? How do you know it’s similar to anything else run by PromoVeritas historically? Have they informed you of this as fact in this specific promotion?

        It’s interesting that elsewhere on the net, it’s apparently been confirmed by Ian Ellington himself, that individual letters were pre-assigned to individual pack codes, therefore, completely contradicting what “Jeremy” has laid out to you. This is one of the key reasons that the ASA is looking into this.

        It’s somewhat irrelevant to find out HOW MANY “flashed packs with codes were printed” – as if it transpires that a single code was not pre-assigned a specific letter (whether it was a winning letter or not), then the whole thing is a sham, completely under the control of promotional team that ran it at all times so that “winning codes” and the specifics of which letters were won when. A real competition would have had all codes printed and in circulation, so that anyone had an equal and fair chance of finding one of the elusive three letters on a pack. This appears to be why such a low percentage of winning codes were ever found – it was all controlled (seemingly by your own admission) by PromoVeritas. Either that, or the “algorithm” that controlled the dishing out of winning letters was constructed to be restrictive. I note the somewhat patronising way you state “It’s just rather hard to explain…” – it’s not at all. Try and explain it. If you can. The point here, is that no-one wants to explain how the algorithm works – and for very good reason. Only 4% of winners, in a web redemption controlled by some mysterious algorithm? Sham.

        Your point about the “796 different names listed” still doesn’t answer the question. Is that 796 “winners” that could then take a further three people on holiday each? Or was it “199 winners” that elected to take three people each giving a grand total of 796 people that actually went on holiday? Your lack of interest in the fine detail when responding is pretty poor if you don’t mind my saying.

        Interesting also that you decide to decline to comment on the spinner and website terms and conditions being changed during the course of the promotion which is a known fact (I spotted amongst many other people). Did “Jeremy” answer that one for you? It’s also interesting that this was a “£38m competition” (apparently as reported in the press), and yet it only cost Walkers “more than £1.3m…” as you put it – how does that correlate? You seem impressed with the prize fund, but Walkers promote it as something very different indeed. Are you suggesting therefore that Walkers own claim that this was a £38m competition was a lie?

        A Walkers spokesman has claimed: “Winning was down to luck and everyone across the country who joined in had an equal chance of winning” – and yet, only 4% of the prize fund was won by anyone just through random luck…. Really? The Walkers spokesman went onto say: “To win a holiday, entrants needed to spell one of the 26 set destinations using letters found in promotional packs. Each destination required one of the three letters C, D and K and during the promotion we released at least 20,000 codes on promotional packs that corresponded to those letters” – so there you have it. Apparently, “at least” 20,000 winning codes (which presumably actually means finding one of the three elusive winning letters) were all “released” to the consuming public, which must mean that they were pre-assigned to a code, and it was not “randomly assigned to you by a web-based algorithm” as you claim.

        • Well, luckily for both of us all the info is on the detailed ASA Rulings today Richard – – and I have to admit I was wrong about the promotion style. Apparently each code WAS pre-assigned a letter which I’m very surprised about! From the start I knew this one would be a bit of a joke, so I haven’t done the research into it that you clearly have. I didn’t realise the ‘swapping’ was restricted to non-winning letters either. Apologies.

          As for the winners, of course it’s 796 individual winners – Walkers would not be able to publish names of guests on a public winners list and besides, I imagine many winners took vouchers instead of taking the holiday. A 4% win rate in EITHER type of promotion like this (whether pre-assigned, or ‘roulette’) is typical.

          • Richard D says:

            You appear to be overlooking an important detail, which was previously asked on two occasions.

            In your original reply, you quoted information that was provided to you by “Jeremy at PromoVeritas” who detailed exactly how the spinner worked. This has turned out to be something of a crock.

            Therefore, did Jeremy lie to you, or did you lie to me? It’s one or the other. It wasn’t simply an “error” given the detail that was purportedly provided to you by “Jeremy”.

            In addition, you are quoted as stating this “…of course it’s 796 individual winners” – how do you know? Do you know this as fact, or is this more erroneous information from “Jeremy”? It’s interesting that the Brand Manager of Walkers, John Savage, has refused to confirm this same detail.

          • Here’s a (not very good I’m afraid!) photo of the winners list Richard – you can send a stamped envelope to PromoVeritas for your own copy of the 11 A4 pages if you want to read every one of those 796 (different) names and counties.

            As for who’s lying – I simply made an educated guess that the promotion was run in a certain way, based on the majority of similar previous PromoVeritas promotions. I was wrong, according to the ASA report – but I see that several people are claiming Walkers/PromoVeritas are actually lying about pre-assigned codes – so in this case, I’m as puzzled as you I’m afraid.

  3. Jane Willis says:

    I realised right from the outset that only around 1 in 20 of the holidays would be given away, as that is the typical redemption rate of a promotion like this – even so, the total number actually won was on the low side. But what angered me was that although they covered themselves in the T&C by using the dreaded “available to win” phrase, all their promotional material implied that it was dead easy to win and that people were winning all over the place. To a non-comper, or even a seasoned one who doesn’t have the experience (and healthy dose of cynicism) that you and I have, it looked like a really easy chance to win. I saw lots of people posting on their facebook page that they had “eaten 60 packets of crisps and still not won”. If only winning ANYTHING was that easy!
    Another instant win mechanism that is terribly misleading is when there is a random winning moment, but the prize will ONLY be won if the entry is made at that exact moment. Sometimes the slot is as brief as a thousandth of a second, and if nobody hits the Submit button within that brief time, the prize is not awarded. Nasties like that are often buried deep in the T&C and are very easy for even experienced compers to miss.

    • I agree about the marketing material – I think the confusion grew because of those in-store Tesco holidays that were given away in addition to the main Spell & Go prizes – as Walkers were sharing photos of winners, people thought they had won from the main promotion.
      And yes, the ‘exact winning moment’ ones infuriate me – how can it be acceptable (and CAP Code compliant) NOT to let entrants know how long that ‘moment’ is, when we’re making a purchase in order to take part! Is it a second, or just a tiny fraction of a second? Madness!

  4. Paul Cunningham says:

    Even after realising it was likely they were skewing letters, the terms and conditions did state that letters were drawn at random through various means, and withholding the prize winning letters is not random at all. I feel that part is why I consider it a scam, particularly when many prizes were given from spot prize events and not from collecting crisp packets.

    They really should have thought this through, been honest about the actual chances, or at the very least have a part in the conditions clearly stating that collecting bags alone is not a random draw of letters that is a guaranteed or recommended way to win the prizes. Under 4% of the potential holidays were given out and that’s glaringly poor.

    They would have fared much better if they did a golden ticket approach, where the lucky code reveals the prizes. That way people are aware of how low the chances are, but don’t feel that compulsively buying crisps increases their odds the same way as collecting letters to spell a destination does. In any case, the promotion has completely put me off the walkers brand, from their handling of the promotion on social media, to the misleading ad campaign where Gary Linekar wins easily through crisp collecting.

    • I love the idea of a golden ticket, but unfortunately the modern way is to do everything electronically – that avoids any problems with printing and distribution and ensures everyone has a fair chance of winning…. a big current exception is the Muller £50,000 yogurts with golden lids, where clearly nobody won first time round because they’re now running it again! I do actually prefer the computer ‘algorithim’ method!

  5. Mark Mascall says:

    I don’t think it is known if the 796 is just from the letter collecting part or if it includes the Tesco “checkout” and social media winners from the same promotion, if it does then there will have been even fewer from letter collecting alone.
    Toffifee are running one (IPM Verified) where in the same way every pack would have to be redeemed for every prize to be won, but they state on the main and entry form pages “Not all prizes will be won”. T&C’s say there are 25,000 available and how winners are selected
    “Winner Selection: Winners will be selected by an algorithm, which has been randomly and independently designed, based on the number of promotional products in the market place. This will ensure there is an equal chance of winning for everyone. Although all prizes will be available to be won, there is no guarantee that they all will actually be won”

    • The 796 winners are just from ‘Spell & Go’ – the other promotions were organised separately and will be separate winners lists.

      I forgot about the dreaded ‘algorithm’ term – as soon as I see that word, I know it’s not going to be an easy-win promotion!

  6. Christine Smith says:

    I had a go at this competition at the start but realised quite quickly that I probably wouldn’t get any of the elusive three letters so did not buy any ‘extra’ packs. However, Walkers always have been my favourite crisps and I won’t be boycotting them any time soon. I think the main problem they have with the fallout from this competition is not that they look dishonest – but they do look rather mean…

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