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Fast-Food Sweepstakes Games Are Brilliant Marketing...So Long As The Customer Always Wins

LOS ANGELES, October 17, 2012 () – I admit it: I love when fast-food restaurants have sweepstakes games. My heart beats a bit faster whenever I see a little game piece on my beverage cup or fries box and I pull it back to see what I’ve won. I don’t even care what I win. I just love getting something! One time I won a free McDonald’s salad—I don’t even like their salads—and I still felt special. In fact, I think I actually pumped my fist.

It’s a shameless marketing ploy and it works like a charm.

There’s just one thing that quick-service chains need to do with these sweepstakes:

Make sure the customer always wins.

Let me be clear: I’m not talking about winning something big. McDonald’s, for instance, recently launched its Monopoly Sweepstakes game. None of us McDonald’s customers expect to win that luxury vacation or $10,000 in cash. But we do expect something. A free Big Mac. A free orange juice with purchase of hash browns. A free salad that I’ll never eat. Something, anything, to make the experience—and the extra money I’ve spent super-sizing my item to receive the game piece—worth it.

McDonald’s does a great job giving something to everyone. But Burger King’s Family Feud game earlier this summer left something to be desired.

With Burger King’s game piece, you were given a question with multiple options. Scratch off the right answer and you win a prize. Scratch off the wrong answer and you get nothing. Scratch off multiple answers and the game piece is automatically invalidated.

I got a game piece following the purchase of a large soda, scratched off an answer and guessed wrong.

I got nothing.

And I was furious.

I mean, as a consumer, what’s the point of a sweepstakes where there’s a chance I can’t win? This isn’t like a lottery ticket where I expect to lose. In the fast-food lottery, I expect a prize! I don’t want to be given choices, unless it’s the choice of a prize. I don’t want the chance of failure. I want to be given something, anything, because then I’ll come back to cash in my prize and most likely add something else to my order. That's what McDonald's customers did during last year's Monopoly promotion; the chain attributed its 5.5% same-store sales increase reported in October 2011 to the promotion.

Fast-food sweepstakes are brilliant.

As long as I always end up a winner.

Nevin Barich is the Food & Beverage Analyst for Industry Intelligence Inc. He’s a huge fan of fast-food chains doing sweepstakes and giving away free food and prizes, just as long as you always make sure he wins. He can be reached at

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