Stay Tuned/Official McRules

From Eccentric Flower

 



stay tuned
 

There was no column for 30 March 97, so I have put this, originally a sidebar item, into the space.



Official McRules
9 March 1997


Image:McRules.jpg

No, you're not supposed to be able to read the block of text above. Do not adjust your set. The original block of text was in 6 point type, and could be read completely clearly if you held the paper about two inches from your eyes. (And in terms of 2007-era monitors it's even more minuscule. No matter.)

This is the legal/disclaimer block from the newspaper-insert portion of McDonald's yearly Monopoly contest. (Monopoly, of course, in addition to being a fine game from Parker Brothers, is what McDonald's thought it had in the fast food industry until the late 70's, and ever since then they've been trying all manner of gimmicks to stay on top.)

Okay, that was a cheap shot. Well, this game has been a big success every year that it's been offered, and McDonald's has made a number of mistakes and been hit with a number of cheating methods over the years, so each time they refine this block of text a little, eliminating additional loopholes on each go-round.

I originally thought about typing the whole thing in; then I considered my wrists and decided against it. This'll be long enough already. Here goes:

The very first line (in boldface) tells us that these aren't the actual official rules, which are theoretically posted in each participating restaurant, and that the game is only offered in the United States, Guam, Saipan, and the Bahamas. (If this game were across Europe, this legal panel would probably have to occupy an entire page to accomodate all the different regulations. If it were possible to run it at all.)

A contest which bills itself as "no purchase necessary" has to provide an alternate means of obtaining tickets (which doesn't involve buying some product). I'm not sure what hoops you have to jump through in order to sponsor a contest where a purchase is necessary. I suppose, technically speaking, that's a lottery ... and lotteries aren't legal everywhere in this country. Hence the standard "no purchase necessary" clause.

In this case, McDonald's language is interesting. You may obtain pieces by "mailing a hand printed request with a hand printed self-addressed, stamped envelope ... WA/VT residents may omit return postage. One request per outer envelope, mailed separately, postmarked no later than 4/3/97 and received by 4/10/97."

Gee. You don't suppose McDonald's has had problems with these no-purchase requests in the past, do you? In fact, it has made their life miserable. People would set up their computers to print thousands of requests/envelopes (hence the "hand printed"). The problem with "one request per envelope" is that a clever person would put one request in each of the inner envelopes (the reply envelopes) and enclose them all in one big envelope for mailing. This is surely why the word "outer" was added.

As for the WA/VT clause (which I've noticed in a lot of other fine print lately), I keep meaning to ask a legal eagle friend of mine about it, but I suspect that the governments of those states have decided, truthfully but pettily, that it's not really "no purchase necessary" if you have to pay for the return stamp.

Note also, before we move on, that McDonald's not only gives a must-be-postmarked date but also insists that it must arrive in their offices by a given date, which I suspect is less a matter of zero-tolerance on their part than it is their desire to get the thing over and done with. (The exact date the contest ends is dubious but is around 4/3; see below.)

Next we have the block about not sending any winning tickets or correspondence to the wrong places. Or, for that matter, giving the big tickets to McDonald's managers who say they will send them in to be redeemed. I don't know that there's been a problem with this in the past, but I wouldn't trust a saint to handle a winning million dollar ticket on my behalf, let alone a McDonald's manager. The restaurants only directly redeem the winners with a dollar value of $20 or under (mostly food).

Now the odd matter of start and end dates. For big prizes, their redemption address must receive the ticket by 5/13 "or no more than 15 days after the contest officially ends, whichever is later." The little prizes must be redeemed between 3/6/97 and 4/18/97 ... with the same 15 day rider on the end date. Then, a few sentences later: "Game begins in restaurants on or about 3/6/97 and is scheduled to end on 4/3/97. Check with a local McDonald's for exact start date."

I'm not sure why McDonald's plays this little game. The newspaper ad, their major print promotion (it has the playing board and two tickets attached) appeared on 3/9; you'd assume that if the contest hadn't started by then, a major disaster had happened at McDonald's Central. Maybe they're just covering their ass. The ending date is even more cryptic. My guess is that they're leaving wiggle room to end the contest sooner if ticket demand is especially high and they run out. Can't really print more, after all; if you printed more of the "non-rare" tickets, you'd change the game's odds (necessitating a last-minute replacement of all promo materials, because accurate odds are required by law); if you printed more of the rare ones, not only would you change the odds, you might even have to award more prizes ... and that would be bad.

See, one of the beautiful things about this game (from the corporation's point of view) is that they may be able to get away without awarding all the prizes. Hence the lines "Unawarded or unclaimed prizes shall not be awarded" and "Prizes pictured in game materials are for illustrative purposes only; actual features of prizes may vary." What do these two sentences have to do with each other? It means that they haven't actually purchased/obtained that Ford Explorer in the photos yet, folks; they went to the nice people at the Ford Motor Co. and got a promo picture, which the nice Ford people were happy to give them (publicity, y'know), and used that. They won't actually go buy/obtain the Explorer until someone wins it.

Why "buy/obtain?" Because McDonald's doesn't say which prizes they shelled out for, and which were donated by their manufacturers (publicity again). It may well be that Ford is handing them that Explorer for free. But neither McDonald's nor Ford cares much whether the one they actually deliver matches the color of the one in the ad ... hence the disclaimer, just in case someone thinks it would be amusing to try to sue them for breach of contract on this little point.

Next comes my favorite part. This part is nasty, and the first sentence is extremely unusual for these sweepstakes-style contests. McDonald's considers this block very important; they underlined it. You can easily pick it out by eye in the picture above.

"No cash alternative or substitution of any prize will be provided. All prizes will be delivered to an address in the U.S. Winner is then solely responsible for any additional freight costs or other costs associated with shipping the prize to the final destination designated by the winner. All taxes on prizes are solely the winner's responsibility. Upon delivery to the U.S. address Sponsor will be deemed to have awarded the prize to the winner with winner assuming full ownership of and responsibility for the prize. For travel prizes, the round trip air transportation element of the prize begins and ends at a destination (commercial airport) in the U.S. closest to the winner's residence. Prize winner responsible for all meals, ground transportation, and other incidental expenses. Sponsor reserves the right to structure travel route in its sole discretion."

McDonald's sees prize winners as freeloaders. It wants you to know exactly where its obligation to cough up the bucks ends: when it drops that Explorer on your doorstep. And when it comes to the always-tricky travel prizes, if you want to have it your way, go to Burger King.

But non-cash prizes are tricky to award, that's the point; they're a pain to deliver, and no one is ever clear which parts of the tab the Sponsor picks up (despite an excellent attempt to codify that here). This is why most sweepstakes offer a "cash equivalent" for merchandise, and actively encourage you to take it. That's why the first sentence of that block is most unusual. No substitutions here.

Putting two and two together, my guess is that McDonald's is running this thing on the cheap; the merchandise is being donated, as theorized above. If they award the Explorer, they paid nothing for it; if they award the equivalent, they're thirty grand out of pocket - their own pocket, not Ford's. That's just a theory.

Not much else of interest except the odds, which I won't reprint here in full; you may assume they're murderous. McDonald's is giving away two separate "big prizes" this year [1997], both for a million dollars; one of them is obtained via a single ticket, an instant winner, and was distributed somewhere in the big newspaper insert/direct mailing on 9 March; the other is a "collection prize" (meaning you have to accumulate several tickets to win it) and is only distributed via the restaurants.

When I say "single ticket," I mean single ticket. The odds of winning that insert/direct mail million are given as one in ninety million. Later the text says that the 9 March newspaper/direct mail distribution, the only one planned, contained ninety million tickets. You do the math.

Somewhere out there is a single little scrap of paper, less than one inch square, worth one million dollars (less taxes). Isn't this a wonderful country? You probably put it in your recycling already.

Worse news: If you suspect you threw out that millon-dollar instant winner, and you are preparing to go make a lot of trips to McDonald's to win the other million, the collection million, be apprised that the odds are much worse. The instant million was 1:90,000,000. The collection million is 1:439,711,000. Again, doing the math against the total number of tickets which will be available in restaurants reveals that there is one and only one "rare" million-dollar ticket (the other tickets in the collection will be easy to get; even McDonald's admits that its collection odds are actually the odds of obtaining the rare ticket in each set), attached to a medium-size soft drink cup or a french fry package somewhere.

Of course, with the collection prize, unless you follow these things religiously, it's hard to tell which one in the set is the rare ticket. This is why McDonalds does it this way instead of making everything instant winners. My recommendation: forget the whole thing and play your local lottery. Your odds of getting a decent sum of cash are probably better.


[27 February 1998] Originally, I had a separate document for quibblers who accused me of being super-biased against McDonald's in general. I have appended its text here.

I admire infrastructure, and McDonald's is an amazing example to follow. (You should read McDonald's: Behind the Arches by John Love if you don't agree.) They have the purchasing power to "nudge" other industries into doing things the way they want, to make their processes more efficient. They have single-handedly shaped the potato industry in this country, for example. I have to admire that kind of clout. And, for the most part, they run a business which is amazingly efficient for its size.

I also am not about to pillory McDonald's for its fat/sugar. My attitude is, if you're alive in this country today and you don't realize that McDonald's food is high in grease, sugar, and salt - the common denominators of junk food - then you've been living in a cave. That's not an endorsement, I'm just not prepared to condemn the entire fast food industry. After all, I eat at fast food places on occasion myself; I can't cast the first stone.

I don't eat at McDonald's, though. Except for a soft drink, and a thick seaweed-and-gelatin-enhanced shake every now and then. Because I don't like it. They make bland, messy food. Period. I don't eat fast-food hamburgers at all anyway, and their chicken and fish sandwiches derive all their taste from a thick blob of mayonnaise-based sauce that oozes out all over you when you try to eat the sandwich.

The only sandwich I like at McDonalds is the sausage biscuit - without the egg and cheese, ugh - but except for road trips, I'm not near a McDonald's early enough in the morning to get one. This is why it's become the ritual "starting out on a road trip" food.

For the record: I eat fish and chicken sandwiches at Burger King (the former is the greasiest thing on BK's menu, so you can see I'm no saint), fast food hotdogs of just about any kind (nitrates, nitrates, nitrates), Arby's when I feel like being ripped off, and Taco Bell when I am feeling particularly devil-may-care about cholesterol. So you can take my comments with a large grain of salt if you like. So to speak.


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