Which instant win formats have the worst chance of winning?

Instant wins are one of the most exciting types of promotion for a brand to run, and there are endless ways that they can do it, with an ‘open winning moments’ promotion probably being the most popular amongst experienced compers, offering the best chance of winning. This is where the first person to enter after a randomly generated precise time – a winning moment – wins a prize. It could be free to enter (like those on my Instant Wins list), or you might need to input a code/barcode from packaging, or upload a photo of a receipt to take part. In the best type of winning moment promotion, if the prize is unclaimed, it will ‘roll over’ to the next time slot and there will be two winners. So, every advertised prize is won! Find out more in my post What is a winning moment promotion?. 

On the other hand, there are lots of instant wins where your chance of a prize is tiny – most of these promotions are advertised on packaging, and you need to buy a product to enter. It can be expensive to take part if it’s not a product you usually buy, and in many cases the small amount of information on the packaging doesn’t fully explain the mechanics of the promotion. Several types of instant win promotion have been ruled as misleading by the Advertising Standards Authority, for exaggerating prize funds and not making it clear to the consumer how small the chance of winning is. 

If you’re new to the world of comping, it’s likely you might be confused, so in this post I will attempt to explain which type of instant wins have the worst odds, and why!

Instant win formats to avoid

The instant wins that offer the poorest chance of a prize are the following formats. None of these formats guarantee that any prizes will be awarded, and each instant win type is explained in detail below the list.

  • Winning combination – a match the number competition, free to enter on magazine websites
  • Seeded instant win – a Willy Wonka style promotion, with a ‘golden ticket’ or similar winning message hidden in product packaging
  • Precise winning moment – to win, the entrant must take part during (not after) a short period of time, which can be a fraction of a second. A purchase is usually required.
  • Algorithmic instant win – a type of purchase-necessary promotion where your chance of winning with each entry is the ‘pack universe’ (the number of promotional packs that have been produced) divided by the number of prizes

You’ll see that the final three all require a product to be purchased in order to enter! I have now added these terms to my Compers Shopping list table, so you can identify the type of instant wins that should be avoided: SIW (seeded instant win), AIW (algorithmic instant win), PWM (precise winning moment).


Winning combination

You may have seen the ‘winning combination’ promotions on magazine websites such as Prima, Men’s Health and Cosmopolitan. These are free to enter and if you match the winning combination of three numbers, you instantly win. The options for each of the three numbers are between 1 & 74, so your odds of getting a match are a huge 405,224-to-1. In my opinion, it’s a complete waste of time entering the instant wins on magazine websites and I’ve never heard of a winner. Winning combination promotions are usually open for a couple of years, or “until the prize is won” – in many cases, the prize is never won! 


Seeded instant win

This type of promotion might be referred to as a Willy Wonka or ‘golden ticket’ instant win where the winning tickets or products are hidden (seeded) amongst regular products during or after the manufacturing process. Depending on the popularity of the product, your odds of winning could be higher than 1 in a million! Seeded instant wins offer a poor chance of winning, but it’s an exciting format that strikes a chord with the general public. Consumers might be hunting for a special Guv’nor wine cork, a mooing Frijj bottle or a half-and-half Crème Egg – or sometimes it’s just a winning ticket inserted into the packaging, like with the Tony’s Chocolonely annual Glastonbury competition. There will be instructions on how to claim, and usually a unique code to quote when doing so.

To increase the likelihood that winning products are purchased and the prizes are claimed, they may be placed onto shop shelves using a ‘reverse shoplifting’ technique called ‘Controlled Product Placement’ – for example, PromoVeritas place winning Creme Eggs by hand on the shelves of smaller convenience stores. Usually when the winner claims, they will be asked to confirm where they bought the winning product – because the promoter knows which shops they are in and this will help verify a claim. 


Precise winning moment

Ask a comper what their favourite type of on-pack promotion is, and many will say it’s winning moments – but really what they mean is open winning moments, with prizes guaranteed to be won by the first entrant AFTER a winning moment. 

The other type is a precise winning moment, where the first person to enter DURING a short time slot wins a prize. In most cases nobody enters during that moment, so the prize isn’t awarded.    

Thankfully, precise winning moment promotions are rare – in the last few years I can only think of McDonalds using this format for the online element of their annual Monopoly promotion. The McDonalds winning moment was a tenth of a second long – if you inputted the unique code from your game piece on the website during this precise time slot, you won a prize. For some promotions the time slot may be a minute or more – but even with a longer time slot, not many of the advertised prizes will be awarded. The ASA state that ‘information about the winning moments mechanism of a promotion should be given sufficient prominence to ensure that consumers can easily see it’ – they investigated a Nescafe promotion which advertised 100 prizes every day. The Nescafe precise winning moment was 30 seconds long, and only 10% of the advertised prizes were awarded. 

Compare a precise winning moment to an open winning moment where the prize is guaranteed to be won by the next entrant and you can understand why open winning moments are preferable! You can read more in my post What is a winning moment promotion?


Algorithmic instant win

Some brands like to advertise big budget on-pack promotions with lots of prizes – they might even seem too good to be true, and that’s because they are! This type of ‘algorithmic’ instant win uses maths to decide if an entry is a winner or not. The packaging will advertise lots of prizes, but all prizes will only be won if there’s an entry for every single promotional pack. Statistics from on-pack promotions show that less than 5% of the promotional packs will result in an entry – people aren’t interested, can’t be bothered, or throw out the packaging without even spotting the WIN! This means that less than 5% of advertised prizes will be awarded. I usually refer to this type of promotion as a ‘misleading instant win’, where the prize fund is exaggerated because the brand know only a small percentage will be claimed.

To calculate the odds of winning with each purchase, we need to know the specified pack universe – this is either the exact amount of flashed promotional packs that have been produced, or if the promo is not advertised on pack, an estimate of how many packs will be sold during the promotional period. The pack universe figure is occasionally supplied by brands when they run this type of instant win, and in these cases we can work out the exact odds of winning. 

Because of the lack of information given to the consumer to explain the poor chance of winning a prize, the Advertising Standards Authority regularly rule against brands running algorithmic instant wins, stating they are misleading, exaggerate the chance of winning and are a breach of the UK Advertising Code. Here’s links to ASA rulings on a couple of the worst offenders:

  • McCain Fries (2018) – 0.56% of advertised prizes were awarded
  • Napolina (2023) – 0.4% of advertised prizes were awarded 

The algorithmic instant win has had a resurgence recently, which is rather disappointing. Some algorithmic instant wins do have a lot of prizes, so the chance of winning isn’t terrible – but when buying the packet, keep in mind that the number of prizes is misleading and less than 5% are likely to be won. If you spot the phrase ‘available to be won’ that’s a clue that the mechanic may be an algorithmic instant win – prizes are available, but may not be won.

Some brands are rather cunning, and will combine an algorithmic instant win with a prize draw or winning moment format – which guarantees they will have at least one winner.

Which brands use an algorithmic instant win format?

Current promotions using an algorithmic instant win format include Le Rustique and WKD. Those combining an algorithmic instant win with a guaranteed prize draw include Brancott Estate, Funkin Cocktails and 1664 Biere (find details of all these on the Compers Shopping List

Florette

Florette are a repeat offender, using the algorithmic instant win format to their advantage, advertising huge prize funds but awarding just one or two prizes. 

In late 2023 promotional packs of Florette salad advertised 50 prizes of £500 in an on-pack instant win promotion. To roughly calculate the odds of winning, I found out that Florette sell approx 30 million packs annually, so across the 55 days of the promotion they would sell around 4.5 million bags. Probably less than this amount will be flashed promo packs due to expiry dates, so if we estimate that 4 million packs have the promotion on, then every entry had a 4,000,000 (number of packs) divided by 50 (number of prizes) chance of winning, ie. each time you entered, your odds of winning were around 1 in 80,000. 

When I asked for a winners list in January, Florette confirmed only one of those fifty prizes was awarded! 

No doubt delighted with only having to pay out £500 of the £25,000 prize fund, Florette then launched a 2024 promotion with a much bigger £300,000 prize fund, advertising 100 prizes of a £3,000 Jet2 holiday on packs. Odds of winning should be around the same as the previous promotion (it has more prizes but the promotional period is longer). This promotion ends on 7 August 2024, and again we can expect to see a winners list with just one or two names on it. It’s misleading and disappointing from Florette.

McVities Great Biscuit Break Bonanza

McVities flashed packs of biscuits promise ‘£1million of prizes to be won’. There are ten £2,500 prizes guaranteed to be given away via winning moments, which is positive. But for the remainder of the prizes (£975,000), it’s an algorithm so expect less than £50,000 to be given away. Of course, £50k itself is an impressive prize fund, until you realise that most of the prizes awarded will be the £1.90 coupons. I’m yet to hear from anyone who has bagged a genuine prize in this one, rather than a coupon. Read more in my post The Great Biscuit Break Bonanza – is it worth entering?

McVities Great Biscuit Break Bonanza

Terms & Conditions lacking essential information

With many on-pack or in-store promotions, terms and conditions simply aren’t clear enough about how winners are decided. It’s important that a consumer understands the chance they have of winning a promotion before they spend money on the product – so there needs to be enough details in the T&Cs to establish what type of winning mechanic is being used.

Sometimes it can be difficult to establish whether all prizes are guaranteed to be won. If you see advertising or packaging that doesn’t tell the full story, you should submit an ASA complaint. ASA guidance tells us that:

  • Ads must not exaggerate the consumer’s chance of winning
  • Terms & Conditions on the packaging must explain the winner selection mechanism and an indication of the number of prizes likely to be awarded.

The ASA article on algorithms states:

Terms that relate to the awarding of prizes are likely to significantly influence a consumer’s understanding and decision to participate in a promotion. As such, this information should be included on the promotional pack and any initial marketing communications. Including this information only in the full terms and conditions, won’t be sufficient.”

When I feel particularly irritated by the misleading marketing of an algorithmic instant win promotion, I will submit a complaint to the ASA. They won’t always conduct an official investigation, but they do contact the promoter to recommend changes for their next instant win. I think it’s important that we continue to make these complaints – with our own comping experience, we can quickly spot an exaggerated prize fund and check terms before buying, but regular shoppers will certainly be making impulse purchases believing they have a reasonable chance of winning the prizes advertised. 


I’d actually love to know if any SuperLucky readers have been lucky in these four types of instant wins – let me know in the comments!

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4 Responses

  1. Great article! I never realized the odds were so different across various instant win formats. Do you think the popularity of an instant win game affects the odds as well?

    • Di says:

      In some rare cases it does – you’ll see it mentioned in the terms that odds can change dependent on entries. For some instant wins where it’s an algorithm for example, entry numbers might be very low so the promoter might lower the odds from 500-to-1 to 50-to-1 at the end to ensure more prizes are given away! This isn’t really a fair way to run a promotion though, because consumers should know up front what their chance of a win is.

  2. Jackie willey says:

    Hope everything goes well with you Di.i have actually won something this month !!!! A cleudo game and a selection of salt of the earth goodies from a prima comp.not a big one but it gives me some inspiration to carry on .x

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