Sunday, April 21, 2013

John Jacob Jingleheimer Vlk

These days, soda-bottle promotions tend to take the form of the bottle cap containing a code you go to a website and punch in. It's a relatively new innovation in the field. Until then, you needed to redeem the actual cap for whatever purpose- as a game piece, as a de facto buy-one-get-one-free coupon, you get the idea. A lot of the time, the contests would take the form of a collection contest: you needed a certain set of caps to win whatever it was was being offered. I remember in some years they'd have a promotion leading into March Madness where they'd print up all sorts of NCAA basketball teams and if you had a cap naming the one that won the title (or an instant-win 'wild card' cap), you won a jersey. The thing is that there are a whole bunch of colleges and most of them have no prayer. I'd get this little pail and just pile in every cap I could get my hands on (whether it was from a bottle of mine or not), and it'd fill up with the likes of Northern Arizona and Maryland-Baltimore County and Appalachian St. and I'd get excited when someone actually halfway decent turned up. I hit paydirt twice, once with a wild-card cap and once when UConn won.

I would not have had a prayer back in 1983, when Pepsi ran the 'Name Game' promotion. The idea here was that the various letters of the alphabet were printed on what in this case were the cans, and you needed to collect a set capable of spelling out your own last name. Accomplish that and Pepsi would pay you $5 per letter. Clearly, there needed to be a way to limit the prize money handed out, and the obvious way to do that here was to not print very many vowels. So spelling 'Allermann' would get me $45, but the odds of that were slim, because not only do I have a long last name, I need to go find two A's and an E.

This was not a foolproof method, though. I point you to professional poker for one really good example. Anyone who's fairly familiar with professional poker would know the name Evelyn Ng. That's consonant N followed by consonant G followed by a $10 bill.

And that is exactly what happened to Pepsi. Ng wasn't as common a last name back then as it is now, but 'Ng' wasn't the last name they had to worry about anyway. Their nemesis- or perhaps namesis- was a Czech immigrant from Pittsburgh named Richard Vlk. Vlk was a diabetic who didn't- and couldn't- drink Pepsi, but that didn't stop him from seeing easy $15 paydays right in front of him. Since he couldn't drink Pepsi, he put out the word via classified ads to anyone that did drink Pepsi that if they had a V, L and K on hand, if they sent him the caps, he'd split the proceeds with anyone that did.

He wound up with 1,393 sets. At $15 each, that works out to $20,895. Giving a 50/50 split to each of his partners, that would give him $10,447.50. Vlk did not recall making a single one of the sets himself.

Pepsi gave him the money.

In $15 increments.

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