Pepsi Number Fever, also known as the 349 incident, was a disastrous promotion held by PepsiCo in the Philippines in 1992. A the time, Pepsi was trying to break into the Philippine market where Coca-Cola was already dominant. The Philippines was the 12th largest soft drink market, with a rapidly growing population of 62 million people.
Pepsi executives resorted to a promotional campaign where each Pepsi bottle cap would have a number that correlated to a prize that would be announced. There would be lots of small winners and then two huge winners of $40,000 each. The campaign was purposed to convert many of the low-income Coke drinkers. They strategically planned to give out a total of $2M in prizes.
The number “349” was designated as the $40,000 winning number. Pepsi had explicitly told its vendor factories not to print this number at all. The two bottles with that number would be specially manufactured and sent to the Philippines by Pepsi themselves. However, a computer glitch with one of Pepsi’s vendors caused them to manufacture 800,000 bottles with the number “349” on the bottle cap. As a result, Pepsi accidentally shipped off $32 billion worth of winning caps to the Philippines. The buzz of such a disruptive campaign increased Pepsi’s market share from 4% to 24.9% in just two months.
However, when the prize-giving day arrived, hundreds of thousands of people all over the Philippines emerged winners of the coveted $40,000 prize. The supposed winners all turned up at the Pepsi Office to redeem their overnight fortune. Of course, on realizing their mistake Pepsi could not make good on their erroneous promise. Likewise, refusing to pay anything would also be devastating to their market share. To appease rising tensions, they make an offer of $18 to each patron, totalling $8.7M in total payouts, versus their original budget of $2M.
Their customers were not so pleased and in response, they formed the 349 Alliance consumer action group. Protests broke out across Manila, in front of government buildings as well as Pepsi’s local headquarters. Soon, it led to full-blown riots break out causing irreparable damage to more than 30 Pepsi trucks. To make matters worse, the Police were called in and rioters begin fighting with them, throwing rocks and receiving tear gas in return. Before long, a random protester throws a live grenade that ricochets off of a Pepsi truck and accidentally kills a woman and a young girl. The fighting continued throughout the day. By the end of all the carnage, five people die and dozens more are wounded. All because of a marketing promotion went wrong.