Pepsi's deadly "Number Fever" campaign

In the 1990s Pepsi ran a promotion in the Philippines that gave people the chance to win cash prizes if the three-digit number printed on the inside of a Pepsi bottle cap matched the number announced on national television. The campaign resulted in a massive increase in Pepsi sales, and it's estimated that half the people in the Philippines participated.

Hysteria over the game led to "murder in the streets," says writer Jeff Maysh, who wrote the feature article in Bloomberg, "Number Fever: The Pepsi Contest That Became a Deadly Fiasco."

Number Fever flew off the rails when "349" was announced on TV as the winning number. The problem was that 349 had been previously declared a nonwinning number earlier in the campaign. Hundreds of thousands of 349 bottle caps were floating around (Pepsi had printed over 600,000), and so countless people assumed they'd suddenly become millionaires. Pepsi refused to honor the prizes and people rioted, resulting in deaths and injuries.

From Maysh's piece:

And the chaos continued. Protesters in Quezon City burned tires. Speculators offered wads of cash for 349s in hopes of a bigger payoff later. Even police weren't immune to the frenzy. One National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) officer arrived at the Quezon City plant with an empty attaché case to carry home his million pesos. "Pepsi either pays," he told a reporter, "or they close down."

As days turned into weeks and then months, some 10,000 claimants filed suits demanding money. Molotov cocktails crashed into Pepsi factories and dozens of delivery trucks, their drivers dousing the flames with 7 Up. The Pepsi-Cola Hotshots basketball team changed its name to the 7-Up Uncolas. Executives began traveling with bodyguards, and the company moved American employees out of the country, save for one who'd worked in Beirut. "We were eating death threats for breakfast," Vera, the marketing director, later told a reporter. At a riot in Manila, a 64-year-old protester named Paciencia Salem, whose husband had died of heart failure during a march, told a journalist, "Even if I die here, my ghost will come to fight Pepsi."