Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Ultimate Video Game Sweepstakes - Everything But the Video Games

Several summer 1990 issues of Video Games & Computer Entertainment magazine featured this densely-worded ad for "The Ultimate Video Game Sweepstakes":

Question one -- what exactly does this have to do with video games?  The grand prize involves a trip anywhere in the world, where I suppose one could play some video games; a ten thousand dollar shopping spree, which one could possibly spend primarily on video games; and a dream car, which might be used to, um, drive to the store and buy a video game.  There are a number of first, second and third prizes, several of which involve cash, most of which involve the CD or cassette of your choice.

But there's no video game playing featured in the ad, or indeed involved in the sweepstakes.  The whole thing appears to be totally generic, and is sponsored by Nordic Style, a company that sells snowmobile wear.

Even more interesting, the sweepstakes ad indicates that "YOU GET $50 FOR EACH FRIEND YOU GET TO ENTER!"

Which brings us to question two -- how exactly is this promotion being funded?

Ah, now this is making more sense.

Calling the Special Express-Entry Line costs the caller $2.95 per minute.  The call length is purportedly "less than one and a half minutes", which likely means it gets charged as a two-minute call for $5.90 by the phone company's decimal-impaired billing systems.

Still, that's hardly enough to cover $50 for each friend you get to... ah.  The fine print makes this offer a little bit clearer:

    Simply get the most people to enter and you'll WIN $50 for each person you got to enter!

So there's ONE person who will get to win $50 for each person they got to enter.  Of course the fine print further limits this to a maximum of $10,000, in the event someone somehow convinces more than 200 people to enter.

There's also a Fast Entry Bonus guaranteeing $50 to the first 250 people who enter; per the fine print, the first 150 callers and the first 100 mail-in entries qualify.

And of course the fine print qualifies most of the prizes to some degree -- the Ultimate Trip is for 7 days, with coach airfare and "deluxe hotel double occupancy accommodations," and the dream car is limited to a sticker price of $40,000 or less.

It was apparently not illegal to run this kind of a sweepstakes, but it still seems like a scam to me -- there's not a direct charge to enter, but use of the phone line to jump quickly onto the bandwagon is clearly encouraged.

So I hope these people got exactly 250 entries, including 150 by phone and 100 by mail, all inspired by the same person.  That would mean they would have collected about $900, and given away about $90,000 in prizes.

But I doubt that's what happened.

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