Coca Cola Tells $10,000 Winner He Did Not Win; Gives Him $500 Instead

A Connecticut limo driver with six kids was thrilled to discover he had won $10,000 in scholarship funds in a new Coca Cola sweepstakes. He even got a message from Coke congratulating him on his win. Turns out it wasn’t The Real Thing after all: the message was an error, triggered by a promo test. He hadn’t won a cent, because the “Twist and Text” contest didn’t actually start for another three weeks.

He took his case to a local TV channel, who helped nudge the soft drinks behemoth into begrudgingly handing over $500. (Would that be in pennies?) And Coke refuses to pay any more because apparently it’s like sooo hard to control sweepstakes, since soda shipments can arrive at stores too early.

Um, that may be true, but surely it wouldn’t have been too difficult for Coke (and the contest administrators, e-Prize) to have set up an automatic response that explained the contest didn’t start until May 1st? Perhaps they’re new to this texting lark.

But anyway, since the label on the bottle did list the official contest start date, this is clearly one instance where it pays (literally) for the consumer to read the fine print.

Man can’t swallow sweepstakes error [WTNH] (Thanks to Dave!)
(Photo: Ken Roberts Photography)


Edit Your Comment

  1. EdnaLegume says:

    well… unfortunately for him, if the bottle label listed the correct date.. they have their butts covered. sort of.

    *I’m really curious about the sign in the picture though… is that the only purpose of the sign to alert people to the danger of said sign? really?

    • WiglyWorm must cease and decist says:


      *I’m really curious about the sign in the picture though… is that the only purpose of the sign to alert people to the danger of said sign? really?

      No. Read the fine print. It mentions a bridge being out ahead.

  2. raleel says:

    wow, missed opportunity for Coke. guy with six kids? honestly, they would have had customers for life and easily made back the 10k. Limo drivers sees a lot of people too, probably would have told dozens that Coke sent one of his kids to college.

    • JackAshley says:


      Sent one of his kids to college for a year maybe…

      • nforcer says:

        @JackAshley: Psh, not even. I got to my state’s flagship state school and that doesn’t even cover a year of tuition, not to mention housing, books, other fees, and general living expenses.

        • raleel says:

          @nforcer: Funny, that would cover a couple years at the school I went to for tuition and books.

        • Wombatish says:

          @nforcer: Less bloated diploma, stat.

          Honestly, if it’s undergrad, it doesn’t really matter.

          • utensil42 says:

            @Wombatish: Not always true. If you’re planning to go to a good graduate school, the undergraduate institution you attended and the kind of education you received there can matter a great deal.

    • Charlotte Rae's Web says:

      @raleel: I understand what you mean but Coke is such a massive organization and runs so many events like this with various brands – they have to be careful not to set a legal precedent for stuff like this which amounts to user error.

      • raleel says:

        @Charlotte Rae’s Web: Of course. But that’s really a tiny thing. Disassociate the money from the contest but still pass it along.

        Really, 10k won’t get you more than a 15 second spot on a tiny tv station. 10k sending a kid to college, even for a short time and all the good will that’ll give, the potential Oprah time… see, now that’s priceless.

    • SnozberryLicker_GitEmSteveDave says:

      @raleel: Well, this guy will have to hope he stops to help change a tire on another limo, and get thanked by the guy in the back, and when he comes home, finds a fruit basket with a note saying his kids are going to college and his house is paid off. Signed, The Donald.

    • dave_coder says:

      @raleel:Speanding $10,000 arbitrarily for good “word of mouth” is a very dumb position to take in business.

  3. dave_coder says:

    What’s the big deal here again? Coca-Cola anticipates that something like this may happen and writes a “begin” date for the contest. Man ignores begin date and pitches a fit to the local station. This works and gets him a $500 “sorry for the screw up”.

    Seems like Coca-Cola went above and beyond to me.

    • WorldHarmony says:

      @dave_coder: I agree- Coca-Cola did the guy a favor. The guy got money he didn’t actually win (or deserve).

    • ShadowFalls says:


      Some people miss the small print. They figure if you see the bottle with an advertised contest, the contest has already begun. It makes logical sense for the good majority to think that as well. Coca-Cola made certain to have Twist & Text in big letters, the begin date should be the same.

      • pop top says:

        @ShadowFalls: It does make logical sense that it had started already since the bottles were on the shelves. But when the guy was informed that the contest hadn’t started yet and he received the message in error, then he should’ve just realized it was a mistake and left it at that.

  4. SnozberryLicker_GitEmSteveDave says:

    Have to agree about there being a start date and a end date. I can’t win a marathon by starting 4 hours earlier than everyone else.

    Now the question I have is this:
    Can he wait until the contest starts up and do what he did, and win?

    • nucwin83 says:

      @SnozberryLicker_GitEmSteveDave: Probably not. Others got the same message, which tells me that the program was probably accepting all “entries” as winners during that testing period.

      Gotta play by the rules. This is also why sweepstakes require that you be certified a winner (same with lotteries) after meeting qualifications before you are guaranteed the prize. This guy wasn’t certified as a winner because of his entry date, plain and simple. And I guarantee that he tried his number again when the promotion was live and it came back as not being a winner and THAT is when he went to the TV station.

    • KMan13 still wants a Pontiac G8 says:

      @SnozberryLicker_GitEmSteveDave: he SHOULD have waited. Read the fine print, and wait until you’re within the window. Then, you get 10k!
      I collect so many Dr. Pepper caps that I enter them all at once for prizes.
      I always make sure I’m within the window.

  5. Ronin-Democrat says:

    did this guy have a “winning ticket” if so he screwed up because had he waited he could have claimed it.
    if he had to ” do something” and got the you won response then coke should pony up the cash…

    • dave_coder says:

      @Ronin-Democrat: But I’ve read that many people were getting the “win” message. The contest had not started so the winnings are no valid.

      Sucks to be that guy but fair is fair. Congrats to him pressuring Coke for a free $500 however.

  6. Slottsherre says:

    Whit in a week, Coca Cola have given this man the grand price of $10 000. I’m sure of it.

    • dave_coder says:

      @Slottsherre: I hope not. The rules of the contest were clearly written and I’ve read elsewhere that others were getting the same “win” message. They give this guy $10,000 for not reading the rules, then they end up giving everyone $10,000.

  7. thedark1 says:

    If it was a coke product he had purchased (like a 20oz) that said he was a wiener he should he should have just kept it till the date then purchased another just to have a receipt with a “right” date on it then turn it in. :P

    • Charlotte Rae's Web says:

      @thedark1: I would really enjoy getting a cap that called me a “wiener”.

      Sorry, just laughing since I have dachshunds. Easy mistake to make.

    • deadspork says:

      @thedark1: @thedark1: he probably didn’t notice the date (seriously, who reads the fine print?). And getting an official congratulatory message from coke probably would have caused him to disregard the date even if he’d read it.

      • redkamel says:

        @deadspork: if I won, you bet I’d be reading that fine print before I said anything.

        • redkamel says:

          @redkamel: wait nevermind, I forgot these newfangled contests require you to text before you actually “win”, so you can’t read the rules in the time between winning and telling someone (unless you always read the fine print, which is unpossible, as deadspork said).

  8. JollyJumjuck says:

    This is why most jurisdictions have strict laws regarding contests and sweepstakes, so that people will not get rooked like this. The “test win” message was generated in error. Whose error? Coca-Cola’s. Instead of owning up to their mistake, they dip into their petty cash to cover it up.
    Personally I think contests and sweepstakes (and lotteries) should be banned. I have heard too many stories of people trusting companies/institutions/whatever to play fair, only to find their faith in the system in vain (the recent debacle with the Ontario Lottery Gaming Corporation, where some lottery dealers were found scamming legitimate winners out of their prizes, comes to mind).

  9. Swizzler121 says:

    so would that mean the winning bottle is already out of circulation?

    • pop top says:

      @Swizzler121: If you had read the article, you would know that the guy got the winning message in error, because he sent the text in before the contest had started. So it wasn’t a winning bottle.

  10. DrNick says:

    So why couldn’t he just wait until may 1st and text again? Does he only get one text?

  11. nucwin83 says:

    Ok, everyone is thinking his code was the winning one and Coke is just being jerks… this isn’t the case.

    Other people also received “You’ve won” messages because the texts were sent during the promo’s testing period. The system was probably set to a predefined “winner” mode in order to test that the appropriate texts were sent back to the sender (bad programming that allowed just anyone to text during this time, but I digress).

    The codes submitted during the testing period were most likely wiped before the live period for the promotion, and the guy probably tried again after the game started, realized it really WASN’T a winner, and THEN decided to go to the TV station to try to get his free cash.

    This is standard stuff. Unless you are certified a winner in a sweepstakes or lottery after meeting qualifications, you’re not the winner. If a lottery says you must be a legal resident of a state and you’re not, doesn’t matter that you have the winning ticket, you still don’t qualify.

  12. savdavid says:

    The man did screw up but Coke REALLY screwed up and has billions. Is good PR worth $10,000? Coke probably spends that much on one executive’s luncheon.

    • dave_coder says:

      @savdavid: Interesting. So a business should throw away $10,000 just because it has “billions” more? I thought most “Consumerists” were against wasteful spending.

      Don’t forget that word of mouth is weaker then you might think.

      • mariospants says:

        @dave_coder: “throw away”?@mariospants: Wait, disregard, I assumed he had been rebuffed due to being early to turn in a sweepstakes ticket. Turns out it was a “promo” site where part of the winning involves a lot more chance than just having numbers. Coke’s also at fault for not being on top of this (i.e. you shouldn’t notify someone they’ve won something when they can’t).

  13. Jessica Haas says:

    Jeez, usually when I buy a bottle of Coke or whatever and they have these contests, they’re usually just small, slightly shitty prizes like an MP3 download or a free can of said soda.

  14. FuryOfFirestorm says:

    10k for college? That won’t even cover enough drugs for a semester!

    Did I say ‘drugs’? I meant to say healthy nutritious snacks!

  15. mariospants says:

    Funny, if he had waited a few days, he’d have gotten the $10k… such a weird situation and in a way to be fair to him, Coke should have returned the winning ticket and quoted the contest regulations. That’s totally not nice on Coke’s part.

    • pop top says:

      @mariospants: He didn’t get the winning message because he had a winning code. He got it because there was an error with the messaging system because the contest hadn’t started yet.

      It’s not about being nice. There were rules, they weren’t followed, so the guy is ineligible. It’s simple.

      • mariospants says:

        @squinko: I agree with you except that Coke is still at fault in some ways: they distributed product referring to the contest before the contest was officially started (in this JIT world, I don’t buy the “it was the retailers’ faults” argument) PLUS the contest site was live and was functioning. Sorry, even the most ridiculously underfunded, infantile operation knows to have a “contest coming soon” page before the start date.

        • pop top says:

          @mariospants: Even if the site was functioning and the product was out before the contest date, that doesn’t mean the guy gets $10k because he caught Coke with their pants down. They had an explicit date and he should’ve backed down when he was told about it.

          If someone had bought a printer with a rebate for $100 that’s only good if it was purchased between April 1st, 2009 and June 30th, 2009, should they get the rebate if they bought the printer on March 15th?

          • mariospants says:

            @squinko: Agreed that he has no claim to the $10k (although a lawyer would know better) however I’m justifying the $500 he got as compensation.

  16. William Brinkman says:

    @raleel: I think you’re far too optimistic about everything and don’t understand a lick of “business.”

  17. Anonymous says:

    As a kid I opened a 12-pack of Pepsi we had sitting around for about 6 months. I then see I had won a Super Nintendo, but the contest was over. I called Pepsi, said I had just bought the 12-pack, so they gave me the Super Nintendo!

    The lesson here: lie to big corporate as much as possible ;-)

  18. LordofBacon says:

    *I’m really curious about the sign in the picture though… is that the only purpose of the sign to alert people to the danger of said sign? really?”

    The picture is from a photoshop contest.

    Does consumerist have permission to use the picture?

  19. BillyDee_CT says:

    As far as I’m concerned, the Coka-Cola company has lost me as a customer for life.

    Instead of Coke being the man and making right on things they flim-flam around doing the right thing. And there’s any wonder why American businesses are in a world of hurt? I won’t buy any America car anymore and now I’ll have my two friends bring me soda either from a Canadian or Swedish manufacturer.

    Is it me or is America starting to stand for crap as far as big business goes?

    • pop top says:

      @BillyDee_CT: Is it me, or is American starting to stand for crap as far as whiny customers go?

      The guy didn’t follow the rules. Coke owes him nothing. If you are going to take part in a lottery/sweepstakes/contest, you should familiarize yourself with the rules beforehand. All this does in reinforce the belief that if you whine and cry and throw a big enough tantrum, you’ll get what you want.

  20. zyodei says:

    Look on the bright side, the man can now ave more than $10,000 in long term medical bills: just never drink coke or any other sodas again.

  21. Laura Northrup says:

    @kman13: I only buy it before Passover.

  22. James Lee Denham says:

    RTFM! I’m just asking people to read. I see it everyday. People not reading simple instructions and then causing a scene when they’re doing it wrong.

  23. econobiker says:

    I once worked with a guy whose wife was a Private Investigator and who worked for a larger PI firm. One of their contracts was to go out and seed Coke/Sprite/Diet Coke/etc 12 packs that had a winning game cards or winner printing in the pack within a certain region. This ensured that the printing company people didn’t boost the winning cards and allowed Coke to distribute winners “randomly” around the region. What was apparently dicey was that she had buy a 12 pack and then return a different twelve pack than what she had bought which technically is illegal to the retailer but not to the CocaCola company since they sanctioned the activity. They couldn’t return the original packs so…

    What WAS cool about it was that we all benefited from the wall of free Coke 12 packs that were in our executive employee conference room since she gave extras to her husband after they had filled their pantry and one half of a garage parking spot full of the 12 packs! I used to sneak in on Fridays and grab a can of Coke,a can of Sprite and then a cup of ice for the 30 mile drive home…

  24. trujunglist says:

    This is par for contests. Sweepers know this, that’s why they always say to READ THE RULES.

    He won erroneously. I’ve been to several contest websites, from ePrize no less, that said that I had “won” a contest, but since the contest hadn’t actually started yet, you don’t really win anything. They do it to test the website… you know, to make sure it works when the contest actually starts.

    Lucky bastard got $500 for nothing.

  25. Anonymous says:

    On Fox News, they contacted Coca-Cola and today they gave the guy a $10,000 scholarship for his children.

  26. Anonymous says:

    My daughter received the same text as this man. For one week she was led to believe she had won this scholarship…they sent her information (deadline for redeeming the scholarship money), and a code to claim the prize, at the end of the week she was told it was a marketing test to see if the text would work when the contest began May 1 and was offered the $500 consolation prize. She is currently a college student, and would not take no for an answer from coke. They offered her the $500, she kept fighting with phone calls. They finally told her it was an error on the part of the marketing company (separate from coke), and the texts were not to go out until after May 1, they just accidently sent them early. They said their legal department was checking into it, and about the time this gentlemen was notified he would in fact receive the $10,000 she also received that information. I’m proud of her for fighting for what she felt was right. And of course THRILLED to save $10,000 on college… I love coke and will drink it everyday for the rest of my life!!