Procter & Gamble’s misfiring Brazil promotion brings Rio grinding to a halt

Produce a duff ad campaign and everybody forgets about it in the end. Get your sales promotion wrong and all sorts of disasters can ensue.

Veterans of the business can remember the great Hoover disaster when some sales promotion company came up with a bright wheeze offering transatlantic flights to lucky winners of a competition. Unfortunately they got their sums wrong and there were so many winners that Hoover almost went out of business.

Now the mighty Procter & Gamble is in the dock because it unwisely indulged in a sales promotion in Rio de Janeiro which involved leaving mystery packing cases all over the place to intrigue consumers, who would have found that they were full of goodies.

Unfortunately the authorities in trigger-happy Rio thought they were full of bombs.

This excellent report in Ad Age has the gory details:
‘RIO DE JANEIRO ( — In a Procter & Gamble promotion gone drastically wrong in Brazil this week, the bomb squad was summoned after panicked residents called the police on Wednesday to report two large wooden crates abandoned in public squares in the upscale Ipanema beach area of Rio de Janeiro. The city of six million people was already on edge after days of fighting between violent drug gangs and heavily-armed police with armored military vehicles left at least 23 dead.

The suspect crates were intended to be a teaser promotion for P&G’s biggest-ever sweepstakes in Brazil, called “P&G Faustão’s Airplane,” with multiple drawings to be held on the Sunday afternoon variety show hosted by Fausto Silva, Brazil’s most popular TV host. Six lucky winners will each win the equivalent of an airplane full of more than $100,000 worth of prizes, including two cars, bars of gold, everything needed to fully outfit an entire home, and of course multiple P&G products.
The website for the promotion features a plane on a runway surrounded by cars, motorcycles, every imaginable household appliance — and a big wooden crate emblazoned with pictures of P&G products like Head & Shoulders, Ariel detergent, Oral-B toothpaste and Gillette deodorant and razors. The wooden crates became a symbol for marketing the promotion, and the idea of placing them in unexpected spots around Rio and other cities was intended to show that Faustão’s Airplane is so full of prizes that some are even falling from the sky. The stunt was executed by local promotions company NewStyle, based in Sao Paulo, with the support of a local partner in Rio called Moda Promoções e Eventos. There were also plans to install the crates in the parking lots of large retailers that sell P&G products.

Instead, Rio’s bomb squad closed off surrounding streets in Ipanema, opened the two crates and found them to be empty. The police put out a statement saying no explosives had been found.

Neither promotions company would comment but P&G quickly canceled plans to distribute more mystery wooden crates and issued this brief statement: “The boxes placed in parts of Rio de Janeiro were part of a P&G promotion. We profoundly regret any discomfort caused to the population. The promotion has been immediately suspended in Rio and other cities.”

That may not be good enough. Rio newspaper O Globo quoted a police official who said one of the promotions companies had applied for but not been granted a permit to place five crates in public places in Rio, but went ahead and did it anyway. The official told the newspaper that his office plans to press charges, and also look at taking action to make the company pay for the cost of the police operation.

Although the stunt with the crates proved disastrous, P&G is continuing with the Faustao’s Airplane sweepstakes, which will cost the company about $1.1 million including prizes and the sponsorship and drawings on Fausto Silva’s TV show. A new winner is drawn every two weeks from mid-October through late December.

The website’s home page promises “One of six prize-filled planes may land at your house with gold bars, two cars, one motorcycle, three TVs, four bicycles, one home theater, two video games and much more.” (In a footnote, P&G carefully explains that the airplane is not included among the prizes). To participate, consumers are asked to buy any of 19 P&G products pictured and submit the bar code along with information, including the answer to the question “Which company gives you a planeload of prizes?” Everyone who enters is offered coupons for multiple P&G brands.

The website details an exhaustive list of all the prizes, including the price and brand name of each one, from the two cars (a Chevolet Meriva and a Ford Ecosport), and an iPod shuffle and an HP netbook right down to Disney puzzles and Sesame Street stuffed animals.

In a further effort to build awareness of P&G brands, the company has created a concept store at the Market Place shopping mall in Sao Paulo offering interactive experiences with 14 of its brands.’

Never mind chaps, back to the drawing board.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.