McMillion$ (Sky Documentaries and NOW TV from Wednesday May 27) tells the stranger-than-fiction story of the $24m con that allowed one man to rig the results of McDonald’s enormously popular Monopoly game for an entire decade.
Launched in 1987, the game increased McDonald’s sales by 40 per cent – even though from 1989 to 2001 the actual chance of winning one of the top prizes was zero. This was because the head of security for the marketing agency that ran it for McDonald’s stole all the high-value winning tickets and sold them off – at first to his family and friends, then to an ever-expanding ring of criminals.
But 20 years on, the UK’s leading expert in promotions fraud is far from convinced a similar con couldn’t happen again – but this time in the UK.
Jeremy Stern is CEO of PromoVeritas and the UK’s leading authority on promotional complianceand security. He says: “Something like McMillion$ could easily happen in the UK. Running big-ticket prize promotions – whether they’re instant wins, competitions or prize draws – is enormously complex and a lot of companies really haven’t learnt the lessons McMillion$ should have taught them. And let’s remember it wasn’t just McDonald’s that was conned, the public were cheated on a massive scale too – as they were deprived of the chance to win amazing prizes.”
“At PromoVeritas we try get inside the minds of potential cheats, be they over-keen consumers or professional con artists, so that we can stay one step ahead of them and ensure that everything is legal, fair and secure. We check for fake tickets, multiple entries, false IDs, in fact cheating of any kind. We’re the guys who judge competitions, oversee many of those live TV votes and distribute the ‘golden tickets’ for lots of popular brands. We take the risk away from our clients and we have a series of complex processes and controls within our own business to ensure there are no hitches. We really are the power behind the promotions.”
Before setting up PromoVeritas, Stern was a senior marketer at Coca Cola, Sega and BT. Today his company provides a full range of compliance services for such household names as Cadbury’s, Kellogg’s, Barclays and O2. They oversee over 1,500 promotions a year in more than 50 countries, and give away tens of millions in prizes each year.
“We believe just 10% of promotions are truly fraud-proof and compliant. The problem is so many companies don’t take their promotions seriously enough. All the focus is on the front end, the headline, the exciting prize, the advert, and they don’t take the time to really consider the back-end, mechanics of running it fairly and legally.”
PromoVeritas’ own consumer research shows that 80% of the UK population has entered a promotion in the last 12 months and Stern says that his job “is to be the consumer’s champion so that they can trust the promotion and will therefore be far more likely to enter it. It’s not just potential fraud we look out for, it’s the far less glamorous bits too – such as whether the Terms & Conditions are fair. Done badly, they can destroy the whole campaign. One competition – which we were most definitely not involved with – offered an amazing prize, a trip to Disney World in Florida for the whole family. Perfect, except that the terms stated it couldn’t be taken during the school holidays!
“The people running these promotions have both a moral and legal obligation to ensure they’re completely above board. We work with some of the biggest companies – and the biggest promotions. If it’s got our name on it, then you can be sure that everything is going to be alright,” Stern said.