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Posted on Oct 11, 2011

Advertising and Promotion Watch: McDonald's Monopoly is Back

This month sees the return of a venerated promotional campaign, McDonald’s Monopoly.  The promotion first began in 1987, and in the last decade has become an almost yearly tradition.  Each year, certain McDonald’s products come with Monopoly game tokens, each with either a space from the Monopoly board or an instant win prize for items such as a small fries.  Larger prizes are won by collecting all of a group of Monopoly properties, usually three, but sometimes two (Illinois Avenue, Indiana Avenue and Kentucky Avenue, for example).  Each group of properties have one whose piece is much rarer than the others; for most of the groups, it’s the last alphabetically (Kentucky Avenue for the red properties, Ventnor Avenue for the yellow), but for the dark blue, it’s Boardwalk, as it is the last and most expensive property on the board.  More recently, McDonalds developed an online counterpart to its in-store Monopoly game in which customers can roll virtual dice, or more recently pick one of three chance cards for various prizes.

In 2000, McDonald’s Monopoly faced charges of a massive fraud operation, after it was uncovered that an employee of Simon Marketing, a firm McDonald’s paid to work on and market the promotion, found a flaw in the game.  Jerome P. Jackson, the then chief of security for the company, was able to take out the most rare and valuable pieces and pass them along to others he knew. Jackson was thus able to control who won all of the top prizes from 1995 to 2000, prizes worth a combined total over $24 million.  Eventually the fraud was discovered, and although McDonalds was not directly culpable, it attempted to improve its public image by agreeing to grant prize money to the legitimate winners.

A happier unusual case also occurred in 1995, when a hospital, St. Jude’s, in Memphis, Tennessee received in the mail a game piece worth one million dollars anonymously sent from Dallas, Texas.  Although the game rules technically banned the transferring of prizes, McDonalds allowed the transfer in this case and paid the hospital.  However, it was later discovered that Jacobson, responsible years of fraud, had sent the piece.

This year, the top prizes include one million dollars in cash for collecting Park Place and Boardwalk, a 2012 Nissan Leaf for collecting Pacific Avenue, Pennsylvania Avenue and North Carolina Avenue, and an Electronic Arts Sports Trip for collecting all four railroads.

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