McDonald’s Sweepstakes Are A Lot More Tricky Than Anyone Realized

A Mississippi woman has defied unbelievable odds to win $250,000 playing a McDonald’s sweepstakes game.

On September 1, the fast-food chain announced Megan D. as the winner, and presented her with the big check. She was one of four $250,000 winners, and plans to use the money to fund retirement and pay for other expenses.

In order to participate in the sweepstakes, players could peel a game piece from the McDonald’s meal, or enter an online code. Each week, there was a guaranteed jackpot of $250,000. According to officials, the fast-food chain gave away a cool $1 million during the nationwide promotion.

Companies often uses sweepstakes as a way to encourage people to do their marketing for them. Consumers can tell their family and friends about the contest — and the company — not only through a phone call or face to face, but instantly through social media, blogs, text messaging and e-mail, where the brand can be exposed to others. It was through a Facebook ad that Megan D. found out about the Minion Mania sweepstakes.

That’s not all. In addition to the increased generation of brand awareness, sweepstakes marketing is also cost-effective. It draws staggering amounts of participation, despite the rough odds of winning.

Consider McDonald’s most famous sweepstakes: its Monopoly contest.

Every sweepstakes needs to have a “no consideration” clause such as “no purchase necessary.” In 2012, a man decided to see if he could win the Monopoly contest without having to pay for anything at McDonald’s. He looked through the rules, and found that in order to participate without purchasing anything, he had to request game pieces be sent through the mail, using hand-written letters sent in a self-addressed stamped envelope. Since the cheapest thing on the menu that came with game pieces was the 99 cent hash brown, he realized that 90 cents in postage was a more cost-efficient way to play.

Ultimately he spent about 10 hours and $117 to send 100 letters and get 400 stamps. So while it is technically free to play, it’s more or less easier to purchase to participate.

Once participants do wind up playing (by purchasing something, most likely), they’re probably going to lose. Business Insider reported that there are about 602,490,060 game pieces in play, which means that there’s about 1.2 billion game stamps, or individual attempts to win. However, only one stamp in each of the sets is actually worth something.

The logical thing most people assume about the game is that each space is equally likely. For example, if McDonald’s wants the odds of drawing a green piece to be one in 1,000, they’ll make the odds of getting each of the green squares one in 1,000. What they actually reportedly do, though, is make one green piece show up about one in 10 times, and another show up one in 100,000 times, which means that the majority of the game pieces are essentially worthless, except for one from each set.

In other words, although McDonald’s does just give away copious amounts of prize money and other goods in its contests, sweepstakes marketing is an ingenious ploy to get more business. And people like Megan D. will wind up being a brand follower for the rest of their life. Who wouldn’t for $250,000?

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